Engineers are always coming up with new ways to use robotics to help people. In general, the concept of robots brings to mind the idea of stiff, jointed machines. Some are rigid but quick, while others are agile but slow. Tufts University is changing all of that. Researchers have developed a biomechanical robot that is flexible, fast, and could be used to develop search and rescue bots.

The GoQBot is the latest design in robotics. The GoQBot is a soft-bodied robot that can squirm into tight spaces easily and roll up into a ball to cover distances quickly.

The GoQBot is designed after certain species of caterpillars that, when attacked, roll into a wheel shape and propel themselves away from their attacker. The four inch biomechanical robot uses a ballistic rolling technique to move at about 25 centimeters per roll. It doesn’t sound like much at first, but this little robot spins at 300 revolutions per minute.

The GoQBot uses embedded shape-memory coils to actuate the ballistic rolling motion. It has infrared emitters on each side for motion tracking. The robot rolls up and moves so fast that the motion is difficult to catch on video. Newer models use mechanical coupling on the actuators to improve body coordination. The research was funded by DARPA and can be used to design reconnaissance robots for faster, safer recovery operations for such dangerous recoveries as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.