NASA is developing squishy worm-like robots that could help astronauts complete dangerous tasks on future space missions.

We usually think of robots as square metal things with squeaky parts and gears. But, a pair of interns at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, are working on a series of soft robot actuators that resembles an inflatable worm. These “soft robots” have flexible parts and can mimic the movement of living organisms, making them ideal for exploration missions on the Moon and even on the Red Planet.

“When you actuate the soft robot, it changes how you use the material properties,” said Jack Fitzpatrick, one of the researchers. “A piece of rubber going from flat to the shape of a finger, it changes the material into something else.” Soft Robots Sullivan and Fitzpatrick operate a soft robotic actuator. Together, they created the controller and actuator with 3D printed parts made at NASA Langley. Photo: Credits: NASA / David C. Bowman

These robots have soft silicone exterior and they can flex and relax like a muscle. The actuators move depending on the amount of air in their chambers. Check this video released by NASA that shows this concept in action.

According to the researchers, soft robots can move around the exploration site and build temporary structures.

Fitzpatrick and his teammate Chuck Sullivan’s research on soft robots is still in its early stages and it could take several years before these robots can actually be used in space missions.

Elsewhere, researchers are developing “flexible” robots that can help explore oceans.

In early 2018, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a video, showing a soft robo fish. Dubbed as the “SoFi”, the bot can swim underwater and even fit in with a school of fish. Researchers say that these fishy spy bots can help study coral reefs without disturbing the fauna, CNET reported.

The US Army Research Laboratory is working on flexible robots that mimic the movement of squids while the Harvard researchers have built a robot that looks like an octopus.