Meet Meshworm, the new soft robot that inches autonomously across the ground. Based on the movements of an earthworm, this robot can survive a blow from a hammer, traverse uneven terrain, and squeeze into tight spaces. And some of those tight spaces might just be inside you.

Researchers at MIT, Harvard University, and Seoul National University developed a soft robot that movies via peristalsis, squeezing and stretching its individual segments much like an earthworm or an esophagus does. They created a nickel and titanium that expands and contracts with heat, forming an "artificial muscle" shaped like a wire. That wire is wrapped around a mesh tube, and when a current is applied to the wire muscle, it propels the mesh tube forward. The result is a robot that keeps moving even after it's been stepped on and hit with a hammer.

Because of Meshworm's adaptability to a variety of surfaces and spaces, Kellar Autumn, a biology professor at Lewis and Clark College who studies animal biomechanics, envisions a wide array of possible uses for this type of robot, which could lend artificial muscles to cell phones, computers, automobiles, prosthetics, and...endoscopes. Someday, these soft robots could be prodding your orifices. As our tipster points out, it's a bit like The Wrath of Khan's Ceti eel brought to robotic life.

Soft autonomous robot inches along like an earthworm [MIT via Daily News - Hat tip to Steven]