Watch this pasta-shaped robot autonomously escape from a maze

You may not see pasta the same way after seeing this robot.

Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of Pennsylvania have created a Rotini-shaped robot that can stumble through a maze without help or guidance from a computer or human. In an article published in the magazine on Monday PNASthe researchers fabricated the robot from a plastic material shaped into a translucent corkscrew, capable of navigating by interacting with and bouncing off the barriers of a maze like a Roomba does when it encounters one hits a wall or an obstacle.

“These soft robots demonstrate a concept called ‘physical intelligence,’ meaning that structural design and smart materials allow the soft robot to navigate in different situations, unlike computational intelligence,” said Jie Yin, a mechanical engineer at North Carolina State University and co-author of the new paper said in a press release.

“This was previously done with smooth-sided wands, but this shape has a downside — when it hits an object, it just spins in place,” Yin explained. “The soft robot we made in the form of a twisted ribbon is able to overcome these obstacles without any human or computer intervention.”

The robot is made of liquid crystal elastomers, rubbery chemical compounds that warp when exposed to high temperatures. When placed on a 131-degree Fahrenheit surface, the robot’s “belly” contracts while its upper half, exposed to the cool air, does not. This difference makes the robot roll around like a possessed twizzler (seriously, check out the video below).

But the genius that allows this blind robot to maneuver around borders without sight is a phenomenon the researchers dub “snap.” When the Rotini-Bot falls body-length into the hedges of a maze, it twists slightly to get around. However, when the middle of the robot touches the hedge, it “snaps,” deforms, and releases all that pent-up energy that allows it to bounce (like the force released on a compressed spring). Snaps can occur the full length of the robot, but are strongest in the middle.

Yin and his colleagues found their corkscrew robot wasn’t too shabby at navigating not just a few simple mazes, but a hot car roof, a bed of loose sand, and, oddly, a charcoal grill.

While the researchers hope to improve the robot’s design and make its mobility less dependent on high temperatures, they see potential for soft-bodied bots that don’t need a brain per se, but still intelligently interact with their environment without human guidance can or computer navigation systems.

“It’s interesting and fun to watch,” Yin said. “But more importantly, it provides new insights into how we can design soft robots capable of harvesting thermal energy from natural environments and autonomously navigating complex, unstructured environments such as roads and harsh deserts.”

Researchers have developed soft robots capable of navigating complex environments, such as mazes, without input from humans or computer software. The soft robots are made of liquid crystal elastomers in the form of a twisted ribbon reminiscent of translucent rotini.

Yao Zhao, NC State University Watch this pasta-shaped robot autonomously escape from a maze


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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