iRobot's oozy ChemBot amazes and terrifies

We're getting a first glimpse of that shape-shifting ChemBot we first told you about last year, and all we can say is, please keep it away from us.

For now, it's palm-size, sure, but what if something terrible happens, and it can't stop inflating? YouTube screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

We're getting a first glimpse of that shape-shifting ChemBot we first told you about last year, and well, it looks like the love child of a beating heart and a wad of Silly Putty.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army Research Office awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to iRobot to create the flexible military bot. The maker of the Roomba and Scooba, along with University of Chicago researchers, showed off the oozy results at the Iros conference (the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems) in St. Louis this week.

DARPA envisions the palm-size ChemBot as a mobile robot that can traverse soft terrain and navigate through small openings, such as tiny wall cracks, during reconnaissance and search-and-rescue missions. It gets around by way of a process called "jamming," in which material can transition between semiliquid and solid states with only a slight change in volume.

In ChemBot's case, a flexible silicone skin encapsulates a series of pockets containing a mix of air and loosely packed particles. When air is removed from the compartments, the skin attempts to equalize the pressure differential by constricting the particles, which shift slightly to fill the void left by the evacuated air.

In that way, the weird little blob inflates and deflates parts of its body, changing size and shape--and scaring the living daylights out of us. We don't know exactly when ChemBot will join the Armed Forces, but we can only beg: please, oh please, keep it away from us.

(Via IEEE Spectrum)

About the author

Leslie Katz, Crave's senior editor, heads up a team that covers the most crushworthy (and wackiest) tech, science, and culture around. As a co-host of the now-retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines. E-mail Leslie.

 

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