Robotics are solving diverse, real-world problems in innovative ways, but they still require repair and maintenance to continue to do their jobs properly. A sustainable solution to this problem is to design robots that can use the materials around them to repair themselves and adapt to their environment.
Mark Yim, Asa Whitney Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the ModLab, along with ModLab grad student Devin Carroll, have designed a robot that can do exactly that with ice. And because it’s the first of its kind, IceBot has recently landed a place in the Guinness World Records.
Ice is a sustainable and ubiquitous material that can be easily manipulated through changes in temperature; applying heat can melt away material as well as “glue” pieces of ice together. The researchers see applications for this robot performing tasks in inhospitably cold locations, such as Antarctica or even frozen planets, moons and other extraterrestrial environments.
IceBot was developed in 2020 and was showcased at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS). The team’s publication on its research and design simply showed that this regenerative, self-assembling robot made mostly of ice could be built. Now, it’s the second robot developed by ModLab researchers to make the Guinness World Records, and although it is still in its fundamental development stage, the IceBot will lend itself to research in extreme environments and serve as inspiration for the future of sustainable, adaptable robots.