GoQBot a Rolling Robot

Caterpillars inspire new movements in soft robots

Some caterpillars have the extraordinary ability to rapidly curl themselves into a wheel and propel themselves away from predators. This highly dynamic process, called ballistic rolling, is one of the fastest wheeling behaviours in nature.

Researchers from Tufts University, Massachusetts, saw this as an opportunity to design a robot that mimics this behaviour of caterpillars and to develop a better understanding of the mechanics behind ballistic rolling


To simulate the movement of a caterpillar, the researchers designed a 10cm long soft-bodied robot, called GoQBot, made out of silicone rubber and actuated by embedded shape memory alloy coils. It was named GoQBot as it forms a “Q” shape before rolling away at over half a meter per second.

YouTube - Rolling caterpillar 1

Video showcasing robots that mimic how caterpillars 'ballistically' fire and roll themselves away from predators.

[... ] In a report published online April 26 in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, Huai-Ti Lin, Gary Leisk and Barry Trimmer of Tufts University report that their GoQBot mimics two caterpillar modes of locomotion: inching along like a worm or ballistically rolling at comparatively high speeds. (Unlike a caterpillar, the GoQBot rolls forward, not backward.) The group was funded by the DARPA ChemBots program, a military effort to design flexible robots that can gain access to tight spaces.

Crawling robots typically have many coordinated joints that slow them down, says Satyandra Gupta, director of the Maryland Robotics Center at the University of Maryland in College Park. While good at wriggling through tight spaces, these crawlers plod along in open terrain.

But a crawling robot that turns itself into a wheel can really move. “Once you get into a ball and rolling, you get dramatic increases in speed,” says Gupta, who was not involved in the research. “This is an exciting development.”

Robots similar to GoQBot may someday aid in search and rescue operations that require both crawling through tight, dangerous spaces and moving across flat ground, says Huai-Ti Lin, who created GoQBot as a graduate student at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.