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Tufts to develop morphing 'chemical robots'
Date:6/30/2008

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. Scientists at Tufts University have received a $3.3 million contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop chemical robots that will be so soft and squishy that they will be able to squeeze into spaces as tiny as 1 centimeter, then morph back into something 10 times larger, and ultimately biodegrade.

The advantages of using unmanned devices to conduct dangerous or difficult operations are clear, and the U.S. has invested in such devices for years. But today's rigid robots, constructed mostly of hard materials, are unable to navigate complex environments with openings of arbitrary size and shape. They are stymied by, say, a building whose only access points may be a crack under a door or a conduit for an electrical cable.

The Tufts team will design the "chembots" to be capable of performing feats no current machine can accomplish, according to Professor of Biology Barry Trimmer, the Henry Bromfield Pearson Professor of Natural Sciences and co-principal investigator on the project. Among these tasks will be the ability to enter confined or complex spaces; follow cables, ropes or wires; and climb trees or other branched structures.

According to Dr. Mitchell Zakin, Ph.D., DARPA program manager for the ChemBots program, "DARPA's ChemBots program represents the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics. It is an entirely new way of looking at robots and could someday yield great technological advantage for our armed forces."

Chembots could extend the capabilities of today's unmanned ground vehicles by accessing urban environments, tunnels, caves and debris fields. Once in place, the energy-efficient chembots could survey the area using little power and then morph to accomplish their task. For example, they might gain entry to an improvised explosive device to gather information or potentially disable the device. Other applications include landmin
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Contact: Kim Thurler
kim.thurler@tufts.edu
617-627-3175
Tufts University
Source:Eurekalert

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