Then a friend told them about flatworms, organisms with sheet-like bodies that live in watery or moist terrestrial environments. The parasitic ones, such as tapeworms, can cause all kinds of health problems for humans and animals. But Kano, Ishiguro, and Watanabe were more interested in the flatworm's movement. To replicate it, they up with a mechanism Kano described as virtual snakes tied together. Picture a "snake grid" with five skinny snakes in parallel connected to five running in the other direction.
The team also came up with what they call a fundamental principle, where any type of locomotion is realized by obtaining reaction forces from the environment. In other words, the robot would have entirely distributed control that allows it to adapt on the fly, encountering any irregularities in terrain simply as new scaffolds to move across.
So far computer simulations show the robot could move efficiently in unknown terrain. The roboticists also created a basic prototype that can move in one direction. Next they plan to make one that can go in multiple directions, Kano said. "We would like to improve the robot so that it can move in water and air," he added.