The adventures of the vine bots are just beginning
April 26, 2021 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Delightful vine robots are happy to explore tight, pointy, unstable, and otherwise challenging spaces, and you can build your own simple version!

"Vine Robots are soft continuum robots design with low-cost fabrication in mind and for the navigation of difficult environments. Unlike traditional robots, which move through surface contact to walk or run, the vine robot relies on growth for movement. Much like a vine and other plants, the robot has a grounded root, or 'base,' and can continually grow as it expands to add material at its tip.

"Vine robots can be easily assembled and programmed by novices while also having the option to perform complex tasks. They allow users to either pre-program or control the growing robot in real-time as it navigates the environment. You can expect the robot to:

- Traverse rough, sticky, and sharp terrain
- Grow 100 times its original length
- Enter gaps one-fourth its original size
- Climb vertically
- Transport fluids

"As a result, potential applications for the Vine Robot include search and rescue (such as searching for people in a collapsed building), deployable structures (like helical antennas), and medical procedures."
posted by cnidaria (10 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
But can it make balloon animals?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:58 AM on April 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Slap some googly eyes on that thing, please, and call it Mr. Friendly Tentacle.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:04 AM on April 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

It's a bit more prolapse-y than I'm looking for in a robot
posted by scruss at 10:59 AM on April 26, 2021 [8 favorites]

I have an occasional requirement at my job to thoroughly inspect small mammal burrows. These burrows can be several feet deep (I've read up to 3m, and have seen up to 1.5m), very winding and forked, in hard ground, and containing delicate and/or dangerous animals. Traditional inspection scopes have not worked well for me, so I am watching this with interest. Their videos show a remotely steerable model, but the website only shows how to build models that have to be pre-steered by taping the tube, but it's certainly a promising approach. I'd love a steerable one of these with very bright lights, a good quality camera, and ruggedized and dustproofed for the field. I like that these basic models are simple and inexpensive, but even at $5-$10k that could pay for itself quite quickly I think.
posted by agentofselection at 11:12 AM on April 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

Commence hemorrhoid and sphincter jokes in 3, 2, 1…
posted by noinstruments at 11:15 AM on April 26, 2021

It looks like there has been some further development on field ruggedization, consisting of a half a plastic water bottle and a zipped-up cloth tube.
. Gotta love the Fallout workbench aesthetic of experimental robotics.
posted by agentofselection at 11:21 AM on April 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Meanwhile, am I the only person who saw "vine bots" and thought that it was automated systems that worked on the now-defunct video sharing site until reading the rest?
posted by djlynch at 11:26 AM on April 26, 2021 [7 favorites]

I thought it climbed vines in confined spaces at first glance myself.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:28 AM on April 26, 2021

Oh my gosh agentofselection, is that zipper pocket for the wires uh, self-zipping-up as it grows because the zipper pull is just tied to the rigid plastic cap with a little piece of waxed string?
posted by cnidaria at 9:34 PM on April 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Meanwhile, am I the only person who saw "vine bots" and thought that it was automated systems that worked on the now-defunct video sharing site until reading the rest?

You are not.
posted by Orlop at 5:49 AM on April 27, 2021

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