Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Slimy Robot Slug

Mark Peplow

A robotic snail that can climb smooth vertical walls and traverse ceilings has oozed into action.

The mechanical mollusc was developed by a team of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led by Anette Hosoi. They built the robot to test out mathematical models of how snails move and stay stuck to surfaces, but they also hope that robotic snails might one day find a use in the real world.

...the artificial gastropod has five movable segments lined up on its underside. One by one, each of these sections moves forwards along a track on the robot's body. After all five have advanced, the body itself slides forward, returning the segments to their original positions.

The team tested out their snail on a tilting platform, covered with a 1.5-millimetre-thick layer of slime made from Laponite, a type of clay that forms a clear, sticky gel when mixed with water.
The secret to this gravity-defying stunt is apparently to keep the snail as light as possible (just 31.6 grams), while ensuring that the Laponite has just the right stickiness. They publish their findings in the November issue of Physics of Fluids.

news @ nature.com�-�Who wants a slugbot?�-�Robotic snail takes ceilings in its stride.


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