Robots have a hard time performing certain tasks that humans take for granted. Tasks such as reaching for the back of the shelf without touching other items on the shelf. Such tasks are a challenge for robots, but MIT has developed a new type of robot that could provide a solution to that challenge.
The robot is designed to extend the chain attachment, which is flexible enough to twist and flip any desired configuration, but it is rigid enough to support heavy loads or apply torque to assemble parts in a narrow space. When the task is complete, you can retract and extend the attachment again at different lengths to fit the next job. The team inspired the robot attachments from the way the plants grow. The robot’s “growth point” is the transmission, which pulls loose chain units into the transmission. The gears in the box then lock the chain units together and send the chain out of the unit-by-unit as rigid attachments. The team envisioned a variety of uses for the robot. Grabbers, cameras and other sensors mounted on the robot’s transmission can help the robot enter an aircraft propulsion system, tighten a loose screw, or reach into a shelf to grab a product without interfering with other items. One of the team’s researchers cited changing car oil as an example. He says the robot needs to be flexible enough to turn to reach the oil filter, and then strong enough to twist the oil filter to remove it. We now have robots that can do this kind of work.