The result is a robot constrained by a spherical surface, which is distinguished by a previously unattainable degree of isolation from the environment. Its possibilities surprise even the creators themselves.
We can read about their achievements in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They demonstrated that when objects are in curved spaces, they are able to move without stressing their surroundings. So far, this appears to be a general law that follows the principle of conservation of momentum.
The change in optics in this case was presented by representatives of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who explained that they allowed their shape-shifting robot to move through the simplest curved space, while analyzing its motion. In this way, they learned, among other things, that the device behaved in a way contrary to the predictions of some physicists. And as it changed shape, it progressed in a way that cannot be attributed to interactions with the environment.
As the authors explain, this robot is not just a curiosity
A series of motors that drove the robot could follow curved paths, and the entire system was attached to a rotating shaft. As a result, the motors are always moving in the field. Instead, the shaft was supported by bearings and airbags to reduce friction. In turn, the alignment of the shaft was adapted to the Earth’s gravity, thanks to which it was possible to reduce the residual gravitational force.
While the robot was moving, motion, gravity, and friction had little effect on it. These forces combined with the effects of curvature to create dynamics with properties they could not create by themselves. This shows that the laws of physics that we adapt to in flat spaces can be undermined in a rather uncomplicated way.
Contrary to appearances, the achievements of the authors are not mere curiosity. As robotics is constantly evolving, understanding this curvature effect may be of practical importance, just as the slight shift in frequency due to gravity has become key to enabling GPS systems to accurately transmit their location to orbiting satellites. In the future, for example, navigating a spacecraft in the highly curved space around a black hole will be an option.
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