Locomotion of soft-bodied organisms, such as amoeba, worms, and octopuses, is safe, robust, and adaptable and has great promise for applications in complex environments. While such organisms fully exploit the potential provided by their soft structures, engineering solutions commonly constrain soft deformation in favor of controllability. In this study, we study how soft deformations can enhance the climbing capabilities of a robot. We introduce a robot called Longitudinally Extensible Continuum-robot inspired by Hirudinea (LEeCH), which has few shape constraints. Inspired by real leeches, LEeCH has a flexible extensible body and two suction cups at the ends. It is capable of performing 3D climbing locomotion using two suction cups driven by vacuum pumps and tri-tube soft actuators which have only three DC motors. The large deformations occurring in LEeCH extend its workspace compared to robots based on constant curvature models, and we show successful locomotion transition from one surface to another at angles between 0° and 180° in experiment. We develop a model based on multibody dynamics to predict the nonlinear deformations of the robot, which we verify in the experiment. The model reveals a nondimensional morphological parameter, which relates the robot's shape to its mass, stiffness, and size. The workspace of LEeCH as a function of this parameter is studied in simulation and is shown to move beyond that of robots based on constant curvature models.
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