Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab recently revealed their work on a robotic prototype made from ice.
While only a proof-of-concept for now, the goal is to create a robot that can self-repair, and potentially even self-replicate, using ice gathered from its surrounding environment. This could be anywhere from Antarctica to the frozen surfaces of icy planets.
In an example video, study co-authors Devin Carroll and Mark Yim show off their rudimentary prototype robot, dubbed IceBot. Its body and wheels are made from ice.
A future robot using this same idea could be equipped with a drill or heated rod to acquire ice and shape it to the necessary form.
Speaking to IEEE Spectrum, Carroll sees a future where arctic- or planet-exploring robots work in pairs to collect materials and manufacture parts:
“When I think of an arctic (or planetary) exploration robot that incorporates self-modification or repair capabilities I envision a system with two types of robots—the first explores the environment and collects materials needed to perform self-augmentation or repair, and the second is some sort of manipulator/manufacturing system. We can envision the exploration class of robot returning to a centralized location with a request for a plow or some other augmentation and the manufacturing system will be able to attach the augmentation directly to the robot.”
Simple repairs could also be made to the ice structures. A crack, for example, could be sealed easily with liquid water (or, as Carroll puts it, an “ice band-aid”).
Their full study, titled “Robots Made from Ice: An Analysis of Manufacturing Techniques,” can be found here. The paper was presented at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS).