A soft, flexible robot resembles a leech and can grip, climb walls

This LEeCH a sucker for walls. Image credit: Toyohashi University of Technology
This LEeCH a sucker for walls. Image credit: Toyohashi University of Technology

A team of scientists from the Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan and the University of Cambridge in the UK has developed a soft, flexible robot that resembles a leech and can climb up a wall. This wall climbing robot is made up of materials used for shower hose, and two suction cups.

The robot called LEeCH (Longitudinally Extensible Continuum-robot inspired by Hirudinea) is capable of elongate and bend its body without any constraints; just like a leech. The team claims that it is a first-of-its-kind robot that can climb a wall flexibly and also make the transition from one side to another.

Leech-inspired robot:

Robotics is improving day by day. There are a lot of robots coming into the market that mesmerize us with their astonishing capabilities. We have seen robots flying like a hummingbird in difficult places, parking cars at the airport, doing a perfect backflip and much more.

LEeCH, developed by the engineers draws the inspiration from the same land leeches. The land leeches, usually found in forest and mountains can move around complex terrain and walls, all thanks to the two natural suction cups on either end of their bodies and soft extensible bodies. In addition, being small, soft and light, they can survive falls from a great height and remain uninjured.

LEeCH next to the creature that inspire it. Image credit: Toyohashi University of Technology
LEeCH next to the creature that inspire it. Image credit: Toyohashi University of Technology

This leech-inspired robot mimics the advantageous properties of leeches, namely, lightweight, flexible and extensible using tube structure of the shower hose. The hose is made to move back and forth by use of a gear, which connects to grooves on the surface of the hose, producing a rack and pinion mechanism. Vacuum pumps are used to control its suction cups.

I came up with the idea in the bathroom of my house,” Toyohashi University of Technology researcher Ayato Kanada said in a press release. “The shower hose went wild as if it had a life 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 the dynamic movement of a living creature.”

A suction cup at either end of its long, flexible body gives LEeCH a fairly strong grip as it climbs against gravity. LEeCH can climb straight up vertical walls, move over obstacles like steps, even jump from one wall to another with breaking a sweat, which researchers said in a statement is not easy for a robot to do.

The robot is not just able to climb vertical walls but climb over them to reach the opposite side. The team believes that it could one day prove useful for everything from building inspections to search and rescue missions. However, the latter would need the robot to navigate uneven terrain. Thus far, LEeCH has stuck solely to flat surfaces. The team described their study recently in the journal Soft Robotics.