Amoebic Locomotion

Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic and State University (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA) have successfully constructed a new method of robotic propulsion based on the movement of amoebas. Called "Whole Skin Locomotion" (WSL), the mechanism works similarly to a pseudopod, or cytoplasmic "foot," of an amoeba. With its elongated cylindrical shape and expanding and contracting actuating rings, the WSL can turn itself inside out in a single continuous motion, mimicking the motion of the cytoplasmic tube an amoeba generates for propulsion.

"Our preliminary experiments show that a robot using the WSL mechanism can easily squeeze between obstacles or under a collapsed ceiling," said Dennis Hong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, who led the project. The mechanism, which can use all of its contact surfaces for traction, can even squeeze through holes with diameters much smaller than its normal width.

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