Biomimetic caterpillar walks free

19 August 2016
Photo of Trevor, the first electronics-free biomimetics caterpillar.
Trevor is the first electronics-free biomimetic caterpillar.

Trevor the Caterpillar is the world's first electronics-free biomimetic caterpillar, powered by artificial muscles.

It is driven by a single DC voltage which is transformed into necessary driving voltages by artificial central pattern generators integrated into its body, like the neural ganglia that are integrated with our muscles.

Technically, researchers have produced an artificial muscle - artificial neuron network, a so-called dielectric elastomer oscillator.

The oscillator uses piezoresistive dielectric elastomer switches (DESs) which were invented in the Auckland Bioengineering Institute’s Biomimetics Lab at the University of Auckland.

The DESs comprise reflexive switching upon mechanical strain and are stimulated by the movement of adjacent artificial muscles in a direct feedback mechanism.

The collaboration of artificial muscles and reflexive artificial neurons can spontaneously generate all necessary voltages to stimulate Trevor's muscles and make him move.

The first Trevor, that used artificial muscles in the same way, was built several years ago by former Biomimetics Lab researchers, Sam Schlatter, and Ben O’Brien with the help of other researchers of the Lab.

This early version was controlled by an external signal processing unit, wires hung down from the electronics to the robot like strings on a marionette.

Like Pinocchio, the new Trevor has been released from his strings by integrating the dielectric elastomer switches directly into its body. This was implemented last year by Dr Markus Henke from the Biomimetics lab with the support of Lab director, Associate Professor Iain Anderson. The now unleashed Trevor Mk II has autonomous movement without electronics.

A paper on Trevor the Caterpillar is in the pipeline with the ‘Soft Robotics’ journal.

For media enquiries email Suzi Phillips, Media Advisor, ABI.