Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Tufts to develop morphing 'chemical robots'

Abstract:
Scientists at Tufts University have received a $3.3 million contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop chemical robots that will be so soft and squishy that they will be able to squeeze into spaces as tiny as 1 centimeter, then morph back into something 10 times larger, and ultimately biodegrade.

Tufts to develop morphing 'chemical robots'

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, MA | Posted on July 1st, 2008

The advantages of using unmanned devices to conduct dangerous or difficult operations are clear, and the U.S. has invested in such devices for years. But today's rigid robots, constructed mostly of hard materials, are unable to navigate complex environments with openings of arbitrary size and shape. They are stymied by, say, a building whose only access points may be a crack under a door or a conduit for an electrical cable.

The Tufts team will design the "chembots" to be capable of performing feats no current machine can accomplish, according to Professor of Biology Barry Trimmer, the Henry Bromfield Pearson Professor of Natural Sciences and co-principal investigator on the project. Among these tasks will be the ability to enter confined or complex spaces; follow cables, ropes or wires; and climb trees or other branched structures.

According to Dr. Mitchell Zakin, Ph.D., DARPA program manager for the ChemBots program, "DARPA's ChemBots program represents the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics. It is an entirely new way of looking at robots and could someday yield great technological advantage for our armed forces."

Chembots could extend the capabilities of today's unmanned ground vehicles by accessing urban environments, tunnels, caves and debris fields. Once in place, the energy-efficient chembots could survey the area using little power and then morph to accomplish their task. For example, they might gain entry to an improvised explosive device to gather information or potentially disable the device. Other applications include landmine detection, search and rescue in hazardous conditions, and biomedical diagnosis. They will also be capable of carrying miniature or micro versions of themselves for access to areas on an even smaller scale.

Bionic Caterpillars

The robot design is inspired by the team's findings on both the remarkable neuromechanical system of the Manduca sexta caterpillar and the extraordinary material properties of biopolymers.

The Tufts chembots will copy some of the performance capability of Manduca, including its flexibility, climbing ability and scalability - from hatching to the end of its larval stage, the caterpillar grows 10,000 fold in mass using the same number of muscles and motor neurons. Trimmer has been studying the nervous system and behavior of this caterpillar for almost two decades.

Key to success will be the use of new biomaterials. While the Tufts team will build the initial chembots with existing synthetic soft materials and actuators, the next stage of the project will use novel soft bionic composites that will be biocompatible and biodegradable.

"Use of all-biodegradable biopolymer systems will allow use of the robots in a broad range of environmental applications, as well as medical scenarios, without requiring retrieval after completion of the designated tasks," noted co-principal investigator David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Biomedical Engineering and chair of biomedical engineering. "We expect that these devices will literally be able to disappear after completing their mission."

The biomaterials will be designed from bioengineered polymers, which the group has studied for many years.

Wireless Telemetry Saves Energy

The complete chembot is envisioned to have multiple hair-like sensors for temperature, pressure, chemical and audio/video and to use wireless communication. The Tufts team has been developing strategies for wireless telemetry, including technology that uses 60 per cent less electricity than conventional devices.

The project is based at the Advanced Technologies Laboratory at Tufts University and will include experts in bio/tissue engineering, soft animal neuromechanics, micromechanical engineering, soft material characterization and modeling, wireless transmission of data and power, mixed mode integrated circuit design, and mobile robot navigation and sensor fusion.

The team plans to build prototype chembots as small as 2 grams and as large as 200 grams. With access to appropriate manufacturing capabilities, researchers say that these devices could be built at low cost in large numbers and at micro (mg) or macro (kg) levels.

Trimmer, a neurobiologist, has been using Manduca as a model system since 1990 through grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation (ase.tufts.edu/biology/faculty/trimmer). His goal has been to better understand how caterpillars can control their movements using a simple brain and how they can move so flexibly without joints. By applying findings from the caterpillar research, his laboratory has built the first fully soft bodied robot prototypes, which will be further adapted to this new project using the expertise of Tufts engineers.

Kaplan, whose laboratory focuses on biopolymer engineering (ase.tufts.edu/biomedical/faculty-staff/kaplan.asp), has already uncovered the secret of how spiders and silkworms are able to spin webs and cocoons made of incredibly strong yet flexible fibers. His team has applied genetic engineering and nanotechnology to create a "fusion protein" that for the first time combined the toughness of spider silk with the intricate structure of silica. His work on biopolymers has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the W.M. Keck Foundation.

In addition to Trimmer and Kaplan, team members include Associate Professor Luis Dorfmann, civil and environmental engineering; Assistant Professor Valencia Joyner, electrical and computer engineering; Senior Lecturer Gary Leisk, mechanical engineering; Assistant Professor Sameer Sonkusale, electrical and computer engineering,; and Assistant Professor Robert White, mechanical engineering.

####

About Tufts University
Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Kim Thurler

617-627-3175

Copyright © Tufts University

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern July 21st, 2018

World's fastest man-made spinning object could help study quantum mechanics July 20th, 2018

Relax, just break it July 20th, 2018

Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers July 20th, 2018

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern July 21st, 2018

World's fastest man-made spinning object could help study quantum mechanics July 20th, 2018

Relax, just break it July 20th, 2018

Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers July 20th, 2018

Molecular Machines

Biophysics -- lighting up DNA-based nanostructures April 25th, 2018

Tiny nanomachine successfully completes test drive: Researchers at the University of Bonn and the research institute Caesar build a one-wheeled vehicle out of DNA rings April 11th, 2018

Piecework at the nano assembly line: Electric fields drive nano-motors a 100,000 times faster than previous methods January 22nd, 2018

'Gyroscope' molecules form crystal that's both solid and full of motion: New type of molecular machine designed by UCLA researchers could have wide-ranging applications in technology and science January 16th, 2018

Molecular Nanotechnology

Watching nanomaterials form in 4D: Novel technology allows researchers to see dynamic reactions as they happen at the nanoscale April 26th, 2018

Biophysics -- lighting up DNA-based nanostructures April 25th, 2018

Tiny nanomachine successfully completes test drive: Researchers at the University of Bonn and the research institute Caesar build a one-wheeled vehicle out of DNA rings April 11th, 2018

Moving nanoparticles using light and magnetic fields January 25th, 2018

Nanomedicine

Nano-kirigami: 'Paper-cut' provides model for 3D intelligent nanofabrication July 13th, 2018

UMBC researchers develop nanoparticles to reduce internal bleeding caused by blast trauma July 13th, 2018

Researchers identify cost-cutting option in treating nail fungus with nanotechnology: GW researcher Adam Friedman, M.D., studied the potential use of nitric oxide-releasing nanoparticles to improve onychomycosis treatment July 11th, 2018

New sensor technology enables super-sensitive live monitoring of human biomolecules July 3rd, 2018

Sensors

Leti & Partners Launch Pilot Program to Assess New Perception Sensors for Autonomous Vehicles July 5th, 2018

New sensor technology enables super-sensitive live monitoring of human biomolecules July 3rd, 2018

A refined magnetic sense: Algorithms and hardware developed in the context of quantum computation are shown to be useful for quantum-enhanced sensing of magnetic fields July 2nd, 2018

NIST Researchers Simulate Simple Logic for Nanofluidic Computing June 30th, 2018

Discoveries

World's fastest man-made spinning object could help study quantum mechanics July 20th, 2018

Relax, just break it July 20th, 2018

Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers July 20th, 2018

The relationship between charge density waves and superconductivity? It's complicated July 19th, 2018

Announcements

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern July 21st, 2018

World's fastest man-made spinning object could help study quantum mechanics July 20th, 2018

Relax, just break it July 20th, 2018

Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers July 20th, 2018

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project