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.
Innovation in patient care requires both clinical and technical skills, and this paper presents the methods and outcomes of a nine-year, clinical-academic collaboration to develop and evaluate new medical device technologies, while teaching mechanical engineering. Together, over the course of a single semester, seniors, graduate students, and clinicians conceive, design, build, and test proof-of-concept prototypes. Projects initiated in the course have generated intellectual property and peer-reviewed publications, stimulated further research, furthered student and clinician careers, and resulted in technology licenses and start-up ventures.
Up to eight percent of patients develop steal syndrome after prosthetic dialysis access graft placement, which is characterized by low blood flow to the hand. Steal syndrome results in a cold hand, pain, and in extreme cases, loss of function and tissue damage. A practical and easy way of adjusting the fluidic resistance in a graft to attenuate the risk of steal physiology would greatly benefit both surgeons and patients. This paper describes the design and development of a device that can be attached to a dialysis access graft at the time of surgical implantation to enable providers to externally adjust the resistance of the graft postoperatively. Bench level flow experiments and magnetic setups were used to establish design requirements and test prototypes. The Graft Resistance Adjustment Mechanism (GRAM) can be applied to a standard graft before or after it is implanted and a non-contact magnetic coupling enables actuation through the skin for graft compression. The device features a winch-driven system to provide translational movement for a graft compression unit. We expect such a device to enable noninvasive management of steal syndrome in a manner that does not change the existing graft and support technologies, thus reducing patient complications and reducing costs to hospitals.
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.
This paper proposes an analytical approach to the robust design of mechanisms, to achieve motion and accuracy requirements given a desired transmission ratio and allowable geometrical variations. The focus is on four-bar and slider-crank mechanisms, which are common elements for the transmission of rotary motion, especially over distances, which are too big for the use of conventional elements such as gears, and motion along a predefined guide-curve, which often is a straight line. For many power transmission applications, a constant relation between the motions of an input and corresponding output element is required. For a four-bar linkage, a value of 1 is the only possible constant transmission ratio—achieved when the mechanism has a parallelogram configuration. In the case of a slider-crank linkage a constant transmission ratio can be achieved with a properly designed circular guide-curve, which makes the slider-crank essentially equivalent to a four-bar. In practice, however, as a result of variations in link lengths due to manufacturing tolerances and load-induced or thermal deformations, the transmission ratio for a parallelogram four-bar linkage will deviate substantially from its ideal theoretical value of 1. Even small changes in link lengths due to deformations or joint backlash can cause unacceptable instantaneous transmission ratio variations. The concepts presented are not limited to the design of four-bars and slider-cranks but can also be applied universally in the design of other mechanisms.
A quasi-passive leg exoskeleton is presented for load-carrying augmentation during walking. The exoskeleton has no actuators, only ankle and hip springs and a knee variable damper. Without a payload, the exoskeleton weighs 11.7kg and requires only 2 Watts of electrical power during loaded walking. For a 36kg payload, we demonstrate that the quasi-passive exoskeleton transfers on average 80% of the load to the ground during the single support phase of walking. By measuring the rate of oxygen consumption on a study participant walking at a self-selected speed, we find that the exoskeleton slightly increases the walking metabolic cost of transport (COT) as compared to a standard loaded backpack (10% increase). However, a similar exoskeleton without joint springs or damping control (zero-impedance exoskeleton) is found to increase COT by 23% compared to the loaded backpack, highlighting the benefits of passive and quasi-passive joint mechanisms in the design of efficient, low-mass leg exoskeletons.