This 3D-printed robot can navigate inside confined spaces

OctaWorm is a 3D-printed, Arduino-based robot that may be the future of search-and-rescue missions. 

When disaster strikes, one of the biggest problems challenges that rescue teams encounter is locating and reaching survivors amid the rubble. Unfortunately, there are times even with today’s advanced technologies where humans are unable to slip into a tight space and extract an individual. But what if there was a robotic device that could? That is the idea behind a recent project by Juan Cristóbal Zagal.


Developed in collaboration with researchers from the University of Chile and University of Akron, OctaWorm is a 3D-printed octahedral robot that is capable of morphing its body to squeeze through holes, gaps and debris. The latest version, now the third prototype, is comprised mostly of 3D-printed parts and some aluminum rods for enhanced durability. It employs pneumatic-driven servo motors for movement and is operated via a wired controller, though the team hopes to make this wireless in the near future.

Aside from that, the robot is equipped with an Arduino board, an Arduino-compatible shield to controls the relays and three pneumatic solenoid valves. Since the OctaWorm is pneumatically driven, Zagal used high-quality rapid pneumatic connectors and plastic tubing to attach it to the controller.

The robot also features 3D-printed ball joints, which enable it to grip onto and traverse through any type of terrain. These rubbery balls are tasked with handling the deformation motion, and allow it to assume a variety of shapes and configurations as it slips into a crack or crevice.


“The current version of the robot is capable of traveling inside a pipe. It is also capable of dealing with changes on the internal diameter of the pipe. The functional symmetry of the robot allows it to travel along T, L and Y joints in pipelines. Traditional in-pipe robots have many problems for dealing with these types of junctions. In contrast the deformable octahedral robotcan simply squeeze into junctions,” Zagal tells 

The goal of the project was to develop a new way to use robotic motion to access and navigate confined spaces typically found in disaster situations, as well as pipes and air ducts. In the future, Zagal envisions an even tinier version that could be used for medical applications, such as going through blood vessels.

Until then, you can watch the OctaWorm in action below!


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