The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army Research Office awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to iRobot to create the flexible military bot. The maker of the Roomba and Scooba, along with University of Chicago researchers, showed off the oozy results at the Iros conference (the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems) in St. Louis this week.
DARPA envisions the palm-size ChemBot as a mobile robot that can traverse soft terrain and navigate through small openings, such as tiny wall cracks, during reconnaissance and search-and-rescue missions. It gets around by way of a process called “jamming,” in which material can transition between semiliquid and solid states with only a slight change in volume.
In ChemBot’s case, a flexible silicone skin encapsulates a series of pockets containing a mix of air and loosely packed particles. When air is removed from the compartments, the skin attempts to equalize the pressure differential by constricting the particles, which shift slightly to fill the void left by the evacuated air.
In that way, the weird little blob inflates and deflates parts of its body, changing size and shape–and scaring the living daylights out of us. We don’t know exactly when ChemBot will join the Armed Forces, but we can only beg: please, oh please, keep it away from us.