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Sucking leech robot scales walls after bathroom revelation

Professional Engineering

The Leech robot (right) uses similar properties and techniques to the creature (left) to climb structures (Credit: Toyohashi University of Technology)
The Leech robot (right) uses similar properties and techniques to the creature (left) to climb structures (Credit: Toyohashi University of Technology)

A leech-like sucking robot created after a bathroom revelation has climbed up and over a wall, paving the way for a range of useful applications.

Mechanical engineer Ayato Kanada from Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan had a flash of inspiration that led to the imaginative project.

“I came up with the idea in the bathroom of my house,” he said. “The shower hose went wild, as if it had a life [of its own], when I inadvertently turned on the faucet at maximum. Then an idea occurred to me, that if I could manipulate a hose, I might be able to make a robot with dynamic movement.”

The result, which was developed by lead author Kanada alongside Dr. Tomoaki Mashimo at Toyohashi and Dr. Fumiya Iida at the University of Cambridge, is the Leech – Longitudinally Extensible Continuum robot inspired by Hirudinea.

The machine has a flexible body made of shower hose material and two suction cups. It can elongate and bend its body “without any constraints” according to the researchers, similar to how a leech moves.

Land leeches are excellent climbers, moving across complex terrain and walls using two suction cups on both ends of soft extendable bodies.

The Leech robot includes a gear with a helical groove on the surface of flexible tubes, which move back and forth thanks to the rotational motion. The body bends or elongates by controlling the length of three flexible tubes. The device successfully climbed up and down a wall, and also transitioned from one side to the other.

Wall climbing robots could be useful in building inspection and maintenance, and search-and-rescue applications, the researchers said. The Leech’s flexibility could make it adaptable for different situations, and its soft robot design means it could work safely alongside people.

The team is reportedly considering the possibility of changing the robot’s stiffness by adding fluid to its tubes.

The research was published in Soft Robotics.
Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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