Robot Inspired by Plant Roots Burrows Underground

Engineers developed a soft robot that can move through sand and curve around objects where traditional robots struggle.
Karen Kwon, Contributor

(Inside Science) -- When people think of a robot, they often imagine classical robots such as R2-D2 with their bodies hard and rigid. But lately, soft robots such as Baymax from "Big Hero 6" are becoming more popular. These robots, often inspired by nature, can bend and flex in response to their environment, enabling them to overcome challenges that more traditional robots had. A team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara and Georgia Institute of Technology developed one such robot that can travel underground. Inspired by plant root growth, this robot can extend its body to tunnel and burrow through soft sand. One day, the new robot could be a part of space exploration, surveying lunar caves or sampling Martian soil. 

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Karen Kwon is a science journalist based in the Washington, D.C. area and was an intern with Inside Science during the summer of 2021. She is also a graduate student in the Science, Health & Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP) at New York University. Originally from Seoul, Korea, she was a 2020 AAAS Mass Media Fellow at Scientific American and has a Ph.D. in chemistry. Follow her on Twitter @ykarenkwon.