Soft fluidic actuators consisting of elastomeric matrices with embedded flexible materials are of particular interest to the robotics community because they are affordable and can be easily customized to a given application. However, the significant potential of such actuators is currently limited as their design has typically been based on intuition. In this paper, the principle of operation of these actuators is comprehensively analyzed and described through experimentally validated quasi-static analytical and finite-element method models for bending in free space and force generation when in contact with an object. This study provides a set of systematic design rules to help the robotics community create soft actuators by understanding how these vary their outputs as a function of input pressure for a number of geometrical parameters. Additionally, the proposed analytical model is implemented in a controller demonstrating its ability to convert pressure information to bending angle in real time. Such an understanding of soft multimaterial actuators will allow future design concepts to be rapidly iterated and their performance predicted, thus enabling new and innovative applications that produce more complex motions to be explored.
This paper presents a portable, assistive, soft robotic glove designed to augment hand rehabilitation for individuals with functional grasp pathologies. The robotic glove utilizes soft actuators consisting of molded elastomeric chambers with fiber reinforcements that induce specific bending, twisting and extending trajectories under fluid pressurization. These soft actuators were mechanically programmed to match and support the range of motion of individual fingers. They demonstrated the ability to generate significant force when pressurized and exhibited low impedance when un-actuated. To operate the soft robotic glove, a control hardware system was designed and included fluidic pressure sensors in line with the hydraulic actuators and a closed-loop controller to regulate the pressure. Demonstrations with the complete system were performed to evaluate the ability of the soft robotic glove to carry out gross and precise functional grasping. Compared to existing devices, the soft robotic glove has the potential to increase user freedom and independence through its portable waist belt pack and open palm design.
Exosuits show much promise as a method for augmenting the body with lightweight, portable, and compliant wearable systems. We envision that such systems can be further refined so that they can be sufficiently low profile to fit under a wearer's existing clothing. Our focus is on creating an assistive device that provides a fraction of the nominal biological torques and does not provide external load transfer. In early work, we showed that the system can substantially maintain normal biomechanics and positively affect a wearer's metabolic rate. Many basic fundamental research and development challenges remain in actuator development, textile innovation, soft sensor development, human-machine interface (control), biomechanics, and physiology, which provides fertile ground for academic research in many disciplines. While we have focused on gait assistance thus far, numerous other applications are possible, including rehabilitation, upper body support, and assistance for other motions. We look forward to a future where wearable robots provide benefits for people across many areas of our society.
Soft sensors comprising a flexible matrix with embedded circuit elements can undergo large deformations while maintaining adequate performance. These devices have attracted considerable interest for their ability to be integrated with the human body and have enabled the design of skin-like health monitoring devices, sensing suits, and soft active orthotics. Numerical tools are needed to facilitate the development and optimization of these systems. In this letter, we introduce a 3D finite element-based numerical tool to simultaneously characterize the mechanical and electrical response of fluid-embedded soft sensors of arbitrary shape, subjected to any loading. First, we quantitatively verified the numerical approach by comparing simulation and experimental results of a dog-bone shaped sensor subjected to uniaxial stretch and local compression. Then, we demonstrate the power of the numerical tool by examining a number of different loading conditions. We expect this work will open the door for further design of complex and optimal soft sensors.
Cell delivery to the infarcted heart has emerged as a promising therapy, but is limited by very low acute retention and engraftment of cells. The objective of this study was to compare a panel of biomaterials to evaluate if acute retention can be improved with a biomaterial carrier. Cells were quantified post-implantation in a rat myocardial infarct model in five groups (n = 7–8); saline injection (current clinical standard), two injectable hydrogels (alginate, chitosan/β-glycerophosphate (chitosan/ß-GP)) and two epicardial patches (alginate, collagen). Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) were delivered to the infarct border zone with each biomaterial. At 24 h, retained cells were quantified by fluorescence. All biomaterials produced superior fluorescence to saline control, with approximately 8- and 14-fold increases with alginate and chitosan/β-GP injectables, and 47 and 59-fold increases achieved with collagen and alginate patches, respectively. Immunohistochemical analysis qualitatively confirmed these findings. All four biomaterials retained 50–60% of cells that were present immediately following transplantation, compared to 10% for the saline control. In conclusion, all four biomaterials were demonstrated to more efficiently deliver and retain cells when compared to a saline control. Biomaterial-based delivery approaches show promise for future development of efficient in vivo delivery techniques.
Accurately targeting multi-adjacent points (MAPs) during image-guided percutaneous procedures is challenging due to needle deflection and misalignment. The associated errors can result in inadequate treatment of cancer in the case of prostate brachytherapy, or inaccurate diagnosis during biopsy, while repeated insertions increase procedure time, radiation dose, and complications. To address these challenges, we present an image-guided robotic system capable of MAP targeting of irregularly shaped volumes after a single insertion of a percutaneous instrument. The design of the compact CT-compatible drive mechanism is based on a nested screw and screw-spline combination that actuates a straight outer cannula and a curved inner stylet that can be repeatedly straightened when retracted inside the cannula. The stylet translation and cannula rotation/translation enable a 3-D workspace to be reached with the stylet's tip. A closed-form inverse kinematics and image-to-robot registration are implemented in an image-guided system including a point-and-click user interface. The complete system is successfully evaluated with a phantom under a Siemens Definition Flash CT scanner. We demonstrate that the system is capable of MAP targeting for a 2-D shape of the letter “H” and a 3-D helical pattern with an average targeting error of 2.41 mm. These results highlight the benefit and efficacy of the proposed robotic system in seed placement during image-guided brachytherapy.
This article describes the development of the Soft Robotics Toolkit, a set of open access resources to support the design, fabrication, modeling, characterization, and control of soft robotic devices. The ultimate aim of the toolkit is to support researchers in building upon each other's work, and thereby advance the field of soft robotics. An additional aim is to support educators and encourage students to pursue careers in engineering and science by making the resources as accessible as possible. The toolkit was developed and refined through a series of pilot studies and user tests. Specifically, the resources were used by students in a project-based medical device design course; volunteers from a variety of backgrounds tested the toolkit and provided feedback, and soft robotics researchers used the collection of resources and contributed to its development. Throughout all user studies, qualitative data were collected and used to guide improvements to the toolkit. This process of testing and refinement has resulted in a website containing design documentation describing general hardware control platforms and specific soft robotic component designs. The online documentation includes downloadable computer-aided design (CAD) files, detailed multimedia protocols for the fabrication of soft devices, tutorials and scripts for modeling and analyzing soft actuators and sensors, and source code for controlling soft devices. Successive iterations of qualitative data gathering and redesign have confirmed that the toolkit documentation is sufficiently detailed to be useful for researchers from a wide range of backgrounds. To date, the focus of the toolkit has primarily been fluid-actuated robotic systems, but the plan is to expand it to support a wider range of soft robotic-enabling technologies. The toolkit is intended as a community resource, and all researchers working in this field are invited to guide its future development by providing feedback and contributing new content.
Wearable robots based on soft materials will augment mobility and performance of the host without restricting natural kinematics. Such wearable robots will need soft sensors to monitor the movement of the wearer and robot outside the lab. Until now wearable soft sensors have not demonstrated significant mechanical robustness nor been systematically characterized for human motion studies of walking and running. Here, we present the design and systematic characterization of a soft sensing suit for monitoring hip, knee, and ankle sagittal plane joint angles. We used hyper-elastic strain sensors based on microchannels of liquid metal embedded within elastomer, but refined their design with the use of discretized stiffness gradients to improve mechanical durability. We found that these robust sensors could stretch up to 396% of their original lengths, would restrict the wearer by less than 0.17% of any given joint’s torque, had gauge factor sensitivities of greater than 2.2, and exhibited less than 2% change in electromechanical specifications through 1500 cycles of loading–unloading. We also evaluated the accuracy and variability of the soft sensing suit by comparing it with joint angle data obtained through optical motion capture. The sensing suit had root mean square (RMS) errors of less than 5° for a walking speed of 0.89 m/s and reached a maximum RMS error of 15° for a running speed of 2.7 m/s. Despite the deviation of absolute measure, the relative repeatability of the sensing suit’s joint angle measurements were statistically equivalent to that of optical motion capture at all speeds. We anticipate that wearable soft sensing will also have applications beyond wearable robotics, such as in medical diagnostics and in human–computer interaction.
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.
Finger therapy exercises, which include table-top, proximal-interphalangeal blocking, straight-fist, distal-interphalangeal blocking, hook-fist and fist exercises, are important for maintaining hand mobility and preventing development of tendon adhesions in post-operative hand-injury patients. Continuous passive motion devices act as an adjunct to the therapist in performing therapy exercises on patients, however current devices are unable to recreate these exercises well. The current study aimed to design and evaluate a finger exercise device that reproduces the therapy exercises, by adopting a cable-actuated flexion and spring-return extension mechanism. The device comprises of phalanx interface attachments, connected by palmar-side cables to spooling actuators and linked by dorsal-side extension springs to provide passive return. Two designs were tested, whereby the springs had similar (Design 1) or different stiffnesses (Design 2). The device was donned onto a model hand and actuated into the desired therapy postures. Our findings indicated that Design 1 is able to recreate table-top, straight-fist and fist exercises, while Design 2 is capable of further replicating distal-interphalangeal blocking, proximal-interphalangeal blocking and hook-fist exercises. Considering that these therapy exercises have not yet been well-replicated in current devices, developing a new device that reproduces the exercises will be beneficial for post-operative rehabilitation of patients.
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.