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Soft robots aren’t easy to make, since they require a completely different set of components from their rigid counterparts. It’s even tougher to scale down the parts they typically use for locomotion. A team of researchers from the Faculty of Physics at the University of Warsaw, however, successfully created a 15-millimeter soft micromachine that only needs light to be able to move. The microrobot is made of Liquid Crystalline Elastomers (LCEs), smart materials that change shape when exposed to visible light. Under a light source, the machine’s body contracts like a caterpillar and forms waves to propel it forward.
The researchers said the robo-caterpillar can climb steep slopes, squeeze into minuscule spaces and move objects ten times its size. A tiny machine like this that can operate in challenging environments could be used for scientific research, and maybe even espionage if someone can find a way to attach a camera or a mic to it. But if the robot’s a bit too small for a specific application, researchers could also adopt the team’s method to make something a wee bit bigger.