CLEVELAND, Ohio – Materials inspired by the sea cucumber, squid beak and pine cone could one day lead to a soft-sided worm-like robot that could crawl through blood vessels.
Developing functional materials inspired by substances found in nature will be the focus of an international research team led by a Case Western Reserve University professor who received a $5.5 million five-year federal grant.
“We’re studying materials and objects found in nature, then reducing the materials for practical use,” LaShanda Korley, an associate professor of macromolecular science and engineering at CWRU, said in a statement.
The sea cucumber’s skin is typically soft and pliable, but can become rigid as a defense mechanism against predators. The tip of the squid beak can cut through muscle and bone, but the fleshy part near the squid’s mouth is 100 times softer. The pinecone opens in dry air and closes when wet.
The bioinspired materials produced in the project will be tested in soft-sided robots, but are expected to have a wide range of practical uses.
The robots could burrow through the earth or building wreckage on search-and rescue-missions, crawl inside waterlines and oil and gas pipelines to inspect them and, if miniaturized, deliver a stent or remove plaque by crawling through a blood vessel.