Sucker for walls: Soft robot inspired by leeches can grip, climb up walls like a pro

Someday, it could prove useful for everything from inspecting buildings to search & rescue missions.

Robots have come a long way since the time they were clunky inflexible chunks of metal. They can now move like animals, do a perfect backflip, play the role of foot-soldiers in the South Korean military, even do backflips like the arachnids.

If you thought leeches have no room in robotics, you're in for a surprise. Engineers from the Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan and the University of Cambridge have built the Longitudinally Extensible Continuum-robot (LEeCH) inspired by the blood-thirsty Hirudinea species (simply known as leeches) that have suckers are either end of their highly-flexible bodies.

"I came up with the idea in the bathroom of my house. The shower hose went wild as if it had a life when I inadvertently turned on the faucet at maximum," Ayato Kanada, lead author of the study, said in a statement. "Then an idea occurred to me that if I could manipulate a hose, I might be able to make a robot with the dynamic movement of a living creature."

LEeCH can climb straight up vertical walls, move over obstacles like steps, even jump from one wall to another with breaking a sweat, which researchers said in a statement is not easy for a robot to do.

Sucker for walls: Soft robot inspired by leeches can grip, climb up walls like a pro

LEeCH next to the creature that inspire it. Image credit: Toyohashi University of Technology

It is made with three flexible tubes connected parallelly that can bend or elongate by controlling the length of each flexible tube fed by the gear. A suction cup at either end of its long, flexible body gives LEeCH a fairly strong grip as it climbs against gravity. With bodies that are very light and soft, these robots aren't in any grave danger even if they lapse and fall from height.

This LEeCH a sucker for walls. Image credit: Toyohashi University of Technology

This LEeCH a sucker for walls. Image credit: Toyohashi University of Technology

In the video, the robot can be seen climbing to the top of a wall, traversing the summit, and over to the other side. Researchers think this incredible ability could prove useful for everything from inspecting buildings to search & rescue missions someday.

The robot's design and more information about its movements are published in the journal Soft Robotics.

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