Robot Leeches Can Climb Over Walls

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Researchers took a couple of suction hooks and some shower hose to create a new robot inspired by leeches.

They call it the LEeCH, or Longitudinally, Extensible Continuum robot inspired by Hirudinea. Like its natural counterpart, LEeCH uses its unique design to elongate, bend, and stick to surfaces in order to scale walls without any constraints.

Land leeches are known as natural climbers that can maneuver complex terrain in forests and mountains with little more than a suction cup at each end of its soft, flexible body.

What's interesting is that the lead author of the study, Ayato Kanada, a doctoral programs student, didn't come up with the idea while looking at a leech (or watching that scene from Stand By Me). He had his 'aha' moment in the bathroom.

One day, Kanada accidentally turned on the shower at full blast and the hose "went wild" as if it had a life of its own. He wondered, what if I could manipulate that hose?

Kanada's curiosity has birthed the LEeCH, a lightweight, flexible, and extensible soft body robot.

Working with a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan, Kanada designed the LEeCH using three generic flexible tubes that you would find in most households. A gear drives the tubes back and forth so they can elongate or bend.

So far, the robot has climbed up and down a wall, climbed up a wall and transitioned to a flat surface (like a stair), and climbed up and over a wall, successfully transitioning to the other side of the wall to climb back down.

According to the researchers, this could be the world's first soft and flexible robot that can move freely on a wall.

Given the capabilities, the LEeCH could one day be used in anything from building inspection and maintenance to search and rescue operations.  

Next, the team is working on durability. The researchers believe that filling the hoses with liquid will make them more durable and resistant against collisions.

The full study was published in the American scientific journal "Soft Robotics."

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