Software can be modified, codes can be adapted or rewritten to cover new situations and delivered via an update – whether to the phone in your pocket or a robot on another planet. Hardware, on the other hand, is generally fixed from the outset, constraining the physical capabilities of a device.
When designing general-purpose robots that’s a problem. What if an unforeseen situation calls for a new tool?
Now the Bio Inspired Robotics Lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and colleagues are developing robots that can add new parts by “growing” them from a special type of adhesive. Unlike a similar robot that can adapt its body shape using sprayable foam, Swiss Federal Institute robots constructs intricate tools. For example, the robot makes itself a small scoop and then uses it to move water from one bowl to another.
The robots construct these new parts using hot-melt adhesive – a substance that can be switched repeatedly between liquid and solid states by controlling its temperature. Highly adhesive and pliable when heated, the material solidifies and forms strong bonds when cooled.
This raw material can be used to form new tools by itself or used to glue larger parts together – including new sensors or motors. The team have also demonstrated the fabrication of movable grippers.