ChemBots to sneak into your body and biodegrade once the task is finished!

Squeezable chemical robots designed to mimic caterpillars may one day be used to sneak through tight spots before expanding to 10 times their size, then biodegrade once the task is finished. The chembots could get into a building through a crack, explore a cave or crevice and dismantle an explosive. Or they might climb ropes, wires or trees. A chembot could pack a smaller chembot into a situation and then release it for even more minute explorations. Researchers at Tufts University have received a 3.3 million U.S. dollar contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to build the soft automatons. Tufts neurobiologist Barry Trimmer studies the nervous systems of caterpillars, which grow 10,000-fold in mass after hatching from the larval stage. He studies how they move so flexibly without joints and control movement so precisely with a simple brain.

Using biomaterials and bioengineered polymers, genetic engineering and nanotechnology, Trimmer and colleagues in other fields hope to duplicate some of the caterpillars’ traits and behaviors. His lab has already built some prototypes. The chembot would have hair-like sensors for temperature, pressure, chemical and audio/video and to use wireless communication. ChemBots are soft, flexible robots that are able to alter their shape to squeeze through small openings and then regain their full size.