iRobot to Develop "Soft Robots"
iRobot, of Roomba fame, is developing a robot that can squeeze into openings smaller than its default dimensions would normally allow.
“During military operations it can be important to gain covert access to denied or hostile space,” said Dr Mitchell Zakin of DARPA, suggesting that the squashy machines are intended to penetrate physical security covertly.
“We believe that a new class of soft, flexible, meso-scale mobile objects that can identify and maneuver through openings smaller than their dimensions to perform various tasks will be quite valuable".
DARPA requires that the final $3.3m prototype machine:
- Travel a distance
- Traverse an arbitrary-shaped opening much smaller than the largest characteristic dimension of the ChemBot
- Reconstitute size, shape, and functionality after traversing the opening
- Travel a distance again
- Perform a function using the embedded payload
On the civilian side, this could be a great upgrade for the Roomba: finally it could get behind that couch.