Soft robots actuated by inflation of a pneumatic network (a “pneu-net”) of small channels in elastomeric materials are appealing for producing sophisticated motions with simple controls. Although current designs of pneu-nets achieve motion with large amplitudes, they do so relatively slowly (over seconds). This paper describes a new design for pneu-nets that reduces the amount of gas needed for inflation of the pneu-net, and thus increases its speed of actuation. A simple actuator can bend from a linear to a quasi-circular shape in 50 ms when pressurized at ΔP = 345 kPa. At high rates of pressurization, the path along which the actuator bends depends on this rate. When inflated fully, the chambers of this new design experience only one-tenth the change in volume of that required for the previous design. This small change in volume requires comparably low levels of strain in the material at maximum amplitudes of actuation, and commensurately low rates of fatigue and failure. This actuator can operate over a million cycles without significant degradation of performance. This design for soft robotic actuators combines high rates of actuation with high reliability of the actuator, and opens new areas of application for them.
A class of soft actuated materials that can achieve lifelike motion is presented. By embedding pneumatic actuators in a soft material inspired by a biological muscle fibril architecture, and developing a simple finite element simulation of the same, tunable biomimetic motion can be achieved with fully soft structures, exemplified here by an active left ventricle simulator.
Established design and fabrication guidelines exist for achieving a variety of motions with soft actuators such as bending, contraction, extension, and twisting. These guidelines typically involve multi-step molding of composite materials (elastomers, paper, fiber, etc.) along with specially designed geometry. In this paper we present the design and fabrication of a robust, fiber-reinforced soft bending actuator where its bend radius and bending axis can be mechanically-programed with a flexible, selectively-placed conformal covering that acts to mechanically constrain motion. Several soft actuators were fabricated and their displacement and force capabilities were measured experimentally and compared to demonstrate the utility of this approach. Finally, a prototype two-digit end-effector was designed and programmed with the conformal covering to shape match a rectangular object. We demonstrated improved gripping force compared to a pure bending actuator. We envision this approach enabling rapid customization of soft actuator function for grasping applications where the geometry of the task is known a priori.
Motion sensing has played an important role in the study of human biomechanics as well as the entertainment industry. Although existing technologies, such as optical or inertial based motion capture systems, have relatively high accuracy in detecting body motions, they still have inherent limitations with regards to mobility and wearability. In this paper, we present a soft motion sensing suit for measuring lower extremity joint motion. The sensing suit prototype includes a pair of elastic tights and three hyperelastic strain sensors. The strain sensors are made of silicone elastomer with embedded microchannels filled with conductive liquid. To form a sensing suit, these sensors are attached at the hip, knee, and ankle areas to measure the joint angles in the sagittal plane. The prototype motion sensing suit has significant potential as an autonomous system that can be worn by individuals during many activities outside the laboratory, from running to rock climbing. In this study we characterize the hyperelastic sensors in isolation to determine their mechanical and electrical responses to strain, and then demonstrate the sensing capability of the integrated suit in comparison with a ground truth optical motion capture system. Using simple calibration techniques, we can accurately track joint angles and gait phase. Our efforts result in a calculated trade off: with a maximum error less than 8%, the sensing suit does not track joints as accurately as optical motion capture, but its wearability means that it is not constrained to use only in a lab.
This paper presents preliminary results for the design, development and evaluation of a hand rehabilitation glove fabricated using soft robotic technology. Soft actuators comprised of elastomeric materials with integrated channels that function as pneumatic networks (PneuNets), are designed and geometrically analyzed to produce bending motions that can safely conform with the human finger motion. Bending curvature and force response of these actuators are investigated using geometrical analysis and a finite element model (FEM) prior to fabrication. The fabrication procedure of the chosen actuator is described followed by a series of experiments that mechanically characterize the actuators. The experimental data is compared to results obtained from FEM simulations showing good agreement. Finally, an open-palm glove design and the integration of the actuators to it are described, followed by a qualitative evaluation study.
Wearable assistive robotic devices are characterized by an interface, a meeting place of living tissue and mechanical forces, at which potential and kinetic energy are converted to one or the other form. Ecological scientists may make important contributions to the design of device interfaces because of a functional perspective on energy and information exchange. For ecological scientists, (a) behavioral forms are an assembly of whole functional systems from available parts, emerging in energy flows, and (b) nature explores for informationally based adaptive solutions to assemble behavioral forms by generating spontaneous patterns containing fluctuations. We present data from ongoing studies with infants that demonstrate how infants may explore for adaptive kicking solutions. Inspired by the ecological perspective and data from developing humans, ecological scientists may design interfaces to assist individuals with medical conditions that result in physical and/or mental impairment. We present one such device, what is called the “second skin,” to illustrate how a soft, prestressed material, worn on the skin surface, may be used synergistically with synthetic and biological muscles for assisting action. Our work on the second skin, thus far, suggests a set of ecologically inspired principles for design of wearable assistive robotic devices.