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This soft and flexible leech-inspired robot can climb walls

The creepy crawly in the video above is a robot called the Longitudinally Extensible Continuum-robot inspired by Hirudinea (LEeCH) which can elongate and bend its body to climb walls, just like a leech. The robot is made from a shower hose with two suction cups attached and is part of a growing trend of soft robots which are flexible and adaptable.

Not only can the LEeCH climb up walls, it can also transition to horizontal surfaces. This makes it the first soft and flexible robot able to move freely on wall surfaces.

A wall-climbing robot could be used for tasks like building inspection and maintenance, or for search and rescue operations after disasters.

To design the robot, the scientists took cues from the natural world, looking at the movements of soft-bodied creatures like amoeba, worms, and octopuses. Their locomotion is “safe, robust, and adaptable and has great promise for applications in complex environments,” according to the paper from the team lead by Dr. Tomoaki Mashimo, Associate Prof. of Department of Mechanical Engineering at Toyohashi University of Technology, and Dr. Fumiya Iida, a reader in robotics of the department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge. These organisms “fully exploit the potential provided by their soft structures.”

The practical implementation of the three flexible tubes which make up the LEeCH was inspired by a more human daily task: taking a shower. “I came up with the idea in the bathroom of my house,” doctoral student Ayato Kanada, lead author of the paper, said in a statement. “The shower hose went wild as if it had a life [of its own] when I inadvertently turned on the faucet at maximum. Then an idea occurred to me that if I could manipulate a hose, I might be able to make a robot with [the] dynamic movement of living creature.”

The next challenge for the team is finding a way to improve the movement of the robot in three dimensions, as currently the LEeCH can only move in a limited plane. They are also looking for ways to make the robot more stable when it is stretched to maximum and to control its stiffness.

The findings are published in the journal Soft Robotics.

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