VIDEO: The Pentagon Is Developing an Indestructible Robotic Worm to Fight Our Wars
Those of you who read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and I, Robot the way that politicians and businesspeople read The Art of War are about to seem a little less crazy.
Apparently, the Pentagon's Defense Advances Research Projects Agency (or DARPA, for those of us who aren't fluent in REDACTED), has teamed up with researchers hailing from top universities including MIT, Harvard University, and Seoul National University for a project that would make any Bond villain squeal with delight: a virtually indestructible robotic worm that could be deployed into some hairy wartime situations.
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Meet the Meshworm, our latest line in weird defense strategy. If you think your skin can crawl, wait till you see this baby in action.
By no means is Meshworm the size of those sandworms that kept Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis trapped inside the house; rather, he's a little guy, who could probably fit into your palm, and he inches across the floor towards you like some kind of... well, robotic worm is really the only thing we can use to describe it.
Sure, Meshy isn't capable of moving terribly fast just yet, and it can't really accomplish much of anything right now except terrify the heck out of me, but he's pretty much an unstoppable juggernaut of robotics.
In other words, if you were to apply some crazy amount of pressure to him in some effort to destroy him, he'll spring right back to his original shape. Take a look at what happens in the video when they hit the robot with a mallet.
Feel your skin crawl when she uses the word "survive" to describe the indestructible robotic worm's continuing merrily along unfazed by the onslaught.
"You can throw [Meshworm] and it won't collapse," bragged Sungbae Kim, one of the mechanical engineers behind the project, "Most mechanical parts are rigid and fragile at small scale, but the parts in Meshworms are all fibrous and flexible."
For inspiration for how the Meshworm should move, Kim and his team of engineers looked at peristalsis-- the specific type of locomotion particular to earthworms, snails, and cucumbers that allows them to move from Point A to Point B. In peristalsis, one alternates squeezing and stretching its muscles all along the perimeter of its body, in much the same way that our GI tract gets disposes of waste.
To emulate peristalsis, the team of researchers designed a tubular skeleton composed of a soft polymer mesh with properties not unlike those of a spring. It also speaks to what got DARPA so excited about the project in the first place: Meshworm's soft robotics system.
What advantages could a soft robotics system have for an agency focused on wars? If you've seen the video, then you've already seen the kind of beating the worm can take. Scientists speculate that these types of systems may be infinitely more capable of journeying through inhospitable terrain or squeezing into tight spaces.
We're probably a long way from getting this Phillip K. Dick nightmare onto the battlefield. Till then, we'll just have to settle for it slithering through our nightmares.
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