Soft actuators are the components responsible for producing motion in soft robots. Although soft actuators have allowed for a variety of innovative applications, there is a need for design tools that can help to efficiently and systematically design actuators for particular functions. Mathematical modeling of soft actuators is an area that is still in its infancy but has the potential to provide quantitative insights into the response of the actuators. These insights can be used to guide actuator design, thus accelerating the design process. Here, we study fluid-powered fiber-reinforced actuators, because these have previously been shown to be capable of producing a wide range of motions. We present a design strategy that takes a kinematic trajectory as its input and uses analytical modeling based on nonlinear elasticity and optimization to identify the optimal design parameters for an actuator that will follow this trajectory upon pressurization. We experimentally verify our modeling approach, and finally we demonstrate how the strategy works, by designing actuators that replicate the motion of the index finger and thumb.
Abstract: Flexible endoscopes are still the gold standard in most natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery (NOTES) procedures; however their flexibility (necessary for navigating through the GI tract) limits their capabilities in terms of distal manipulation and stability. We propose a deployable endoscopic add-on aimed at locally counteracting forces applied at the tip of an endoscope. We analyze different designs: a fully soft version and two hybrid soft-folded versions. The hybrid designs exploit either an inextensible structure pressurized by a soft actuator or the stiffness provided by the unfolded “magic cube” origami structure. We focus on the fabrication and experimental characterization of the proposed structures and present some preliminary designs and integration strategies to mount them on top of current flexible endoscopes.
‘Snap-On’ robotic modules that can integrate distally with existing commercially-available endoscopic equipment have the potential to provide new capabilities such as enhanced dexterity, bilateral manipulation and feedback sensing with minimal disruption of the current clinical workflow. However, the desire for fully-distal integration of sensors and actuators and the resulting form factor requirements preclude the use of many off-the-shelf actuators capable of generating the relevant strokes and forces required to interact with tools and tissue. In this work, we investigate the use of millimeter-scale, optimally-packed helical shape memory alloy (SMA) actuators in an antagonistic configuration to provide distal actuation without the need for a continuous mechanical coupling to proximal, off-board actuation packages to realize a truly plug-and-play solution. Using phenomenological modeling, we design and fabricate antagonistic helical SMA pairs and implement them in an at-scale roboendoscopic module to generate strokes and forces necessary for deflecting tools passed through the endoscope working port, thereby providing a controllable robotic ‘wrist’ inside the body to otherwise passive flexible tools. Bandwidth is drastically improved through the integration of targeted fluid cooling. The integrated system can generate maximum lateral forces of 10N and demonstrates an additional 96 degrees of distal angulation, expanding the reachable workspace of tools passed through a standard endoscope.
Soft bending actuators are inherently compliant, compact, and lightweight. They are preferable candidates over rigid actuators for robotic applications ranging from physical human interaction to delicate object manipulation. However, characterizing and predicting their behaviors are challenging due to the material nonlinearities and the complex motions they can produce. This paper investigates a soft bending actuator design that uses a single air chamber and fiber reinforcements. Additionally, the actuator design incorporates a sensing layer to enable real-time bending angle measurement for analysis and control. In order to study the bending and force exertion characteristics when interacting with the environment, a quasistatic analytical model is developed based on the bending moments generated from the applied internal pressure and stretches of the soft materials. Comparatively, a finite-element method model is created for the same actuator design. Both the analytical model and the finite-element model are used in the fiber reinforcement analysis and the validation experiments with fabricated actuators. The experimental results demonstrate that the analytical model captures the relationships of supplied air pressure, actuator bending angle, and interaction force at the actuator tip. Moreover, it is shown that an off-the-shelf bend angle sensor integrated to the actuator in this study could provide real-time force estimation, thus eliminating the need for a force sensor.
There is much interest in form-fitting, low-modulus, implantable devices or soft robots that can mimic or assist in complex biological functions such as the contraction of heart muscle. We present a soft robotic sleeve that is implanted around the heart and actively compresses and twists to act as a cardiac ventricular assist device. The sleeve does not contact blood, obviating the need for anticoagulation therapy or blood thinners, and reduces complications with current ventricular assist devices, such as clotting and infection. Our approach used a biologically inspired design to orient individual contracting elements or actuators in a layered helical and circumferential fashion, mimicking the orientation of the outer two muscle layers of the mammalian heart. The resulting implantable soft robot mimicked the form and function of the native heart, with a stiffness value of the same order of magnitude as that of the heart tissue. We demonstrated feasibility of this soft sleeve device for supporting heart function in a porcine model of acute heart failure. The soft robotic sleeve can be customized to patient-specific needs and may have the potential to act as a bridge to transplant for patients with heart failure.
The Soft Robotics Toolkit (SRT) is an open-access website containing detailed information about the design, fabrication, and characterization of soft-robotic components and systems (Figure 1). Soft robotics is a growing field of research concerned with the development of electromechanical technology composed of compliant materials or structures. The SRT website hosts design files, multimedia fabrication instructions, and software tutorials submitted by an international community of soft-robotics researchers and designers. In this article, we describe the development of the SRT and some challenges in developing widely disseminated robotic-hardware resources. Our attempts to overcome these challenges in the development of the toolkit are discussed by focusing on strategies that have been used to engage participants ranging from K-12 grade students to robotics research groups. A series of design competitions encouraged people to use and contribute to the toolkit. New fabrication methods requiring only low-cost and accessible materials were developed to lower the entry barriers to soft robotics and instructional materials and outreach activities were used to engage new audiences. We hope that our experiences in developing and scaling the toolkit may serve as guidance for other open robotic-hardware projects.
Recent advances in medical robotics have initiated a transition from rigid serial manipulators to flexible or continuum robots capable of navigating to confined anatomy within the body. A desire for further procedure minimization is a key accelerator for the development of these flexible systems where the end goal is to provide access to the previously inaccessible anatomical workspaces and enable new minimally invasive surgical (MIS) procedures. While sophisticated navigation and control capabilities have been demonstrated for such systems, existing manufacturing approaches have limited the capabilities of millimeter-scale end-effectors for these flexible systems to date and, to achieve next generation highly functional end-effectors for surgical robots, advanced manufacturing approaches are required. We address this challenge by utilizing a disruptive 2D layer-by-layer precision fabrication process (inspired by printed circuit board manufacturing) that can create functional 3D mechanisms by folding 2D layers of materials which may be structural, flexible, adhesive, or conductive. Such an approach enables actuation, sensing, and circuitry to be directly integrated with the articulating features by selecting the appropriate materials during the layer-by-layer manufacturing process. To demonstrate the efficacy of this technology, we use it to fabricate three modular robotic components at the millimeter-scale: (1) sensors, (2) mechanisms, and (3) actuators. These modules could potentially be implemented into transendoscopic systems, enabling bilateral grasping, retraction and cutting, and could potentially mitigate challenging MIS interventions performed via endoscopy or flexible means. This research lays the ground work for new mechanism, sensor and actuation technologies that can be readily integrated via new millimeter-scale layer-by-layer manufacturing approaches.
To understand the effects of soft exosuits on human loaded walking, we developed a reconfigurable multi-joint actuation platform that can provide synchronized forces to the ankle and hip joints. Two different assistive strategies were evaluated on eight subjects walking on a treadmill at a speed of 1.25 m/s with a 23.8 kg backpack: 1) hip extension assistance and 2) multi-joint assistance (hip extension, ankle plantarflexion and hip flexion). Results show that the exosuit introduces minimum changes to kinematics and reduces biological joint moments. A reduction trend in muscular activity was observed for both conditions. On average, the exosuit reduced the metabolic cost of walking by 0.21 ± 0.04 W/kg and 0.67 ± 0.09 W/kg for hip extension assistance and multi-joint assistance respectively, which is equivalent to an average metabolic reduction of 4.6% and 14.6% demonstrating that soft exosuits can effectively improve human walking efficiency during load carriage without affecting natural walking gait. Moreover, it indicates that actuating multiple joints with soft exosuits provides a significant benefit to muscular activity and metabolic cost compared to actuating single joint.
Background Recent advances in wearable robotic devices have demonstrated the ability to reduce the metabolic cost of walking by assisting the ankle joint. To achieve greater gains in the future it will be important to determine optimal actuation parameters and explore the effect of assisting other joints. The aim of the present work is to investigate how the timing of hip extension assistance affects the positive mechanical power delivered by an exosuit and its effect on biological joint power and metabolic cost during loaded walking. In this study, we evaluated 4 different hip assistive profiles with different actuation timings: early-start-early-peak (ESEP), early-start-late-peak (ESLP), late-start-early-peak (LSEP), late-start-late-peak (LSLP).
Methods Eight healthy participants walked on a treadmill at a constant speed of 1.5 m · s-1 while carrying a 23 kg backpack load. We tested five different conditions: four with the assistive profiles described above and one unpowered condition where no assistance was provided. We evaluated participants’ lower limb kinetics, kinematics, metabolic cost and muscle activation.
Results The variation of timing in the hip extension assistance resulted in a different amount of mechanical power delivered to the wearer across conditions; with the ESLP condition providing a significantly higher amount of positive mechanical power (0.219 ± 0.006 W · kg-1) with respect to the other powered conditions. Biological joint power was significantly reduced at the hip (ESEP and ESLP) and at the knee (ESEP, ESLP and LSEP) with respect to the unpowered condition. Further, all assistive profiles significantly reduced the metabolic cost of walking compared to the unpowered condition by 5.7 ± 1.5 %, 8.5 ± 0.9 %, 6.3 ± 1.4 % and 7.1 ± 1.9 % (mean ± SE for ESEP, ESLP, LSEP, LSLP, respectively).
Conclusions The highest positive mechanical power delivered by the soft exosuit was reported in the ESLP condition, which showed also a significant reduction in both biological hip and knee joint power. Further, the ESLP condition had the highest average metabolic reduction among the powered conditions. Future work on autonomous hip exoskeletons may incorporate these considerations when designing effective control strategies.
We present a simple fabrication approach for anisotropically conductive stretchable composites, towards novel flexible pressure transducers. Flexible electronic systems have gained great interest in recent years, and within this space, anisotropic conducting materials have been explored for enhanced sensing performance. However, current methods for producing these materials are complex or are limited to small fabrication areas. Our method uses film applicator coating to render commercially available conductive RTVs anisotropically conductive. A ratio of in-plane surface resistance to through-thickness resistance of 1010 was achieved using our method. Furthermore, we show that when a normal pressure is applied to such films, the in-plane resistance can be reduced by seven orders of magnitude for an applied pressure of 10 kPa. Hence these materials show great promise for the development of novel, robust pressure transducers.
Light-Intensity Modulated (LIM) force sensors are seeing increasing interest in the field of surgical robotics and flexible systems in particular. However, such sensing modalities are notoriously susceptible to ambient effects such as temperature and environmental irradiance which can register as false force readings. We explore machine learning techniques to dynamically compensate for environmental biases that plague multi-axis optoelectronic force sensors. In this work, we fabricate a multisensor: three-axis LIM force sensor with integrated temperature and ambient irradiance sensing manufactured via a monolithic, origami-inspired fabrication process called printed-circuit MEMS. We explore machine learning regression techniques to compensate for temperature and ambient light sensitivity using on-board environmental sensor data. We compare batch-based ridge regression, kernelized regression and support vector techniques to baseline ordinary least-squares estimates to show that on-board environmental monitoring can substantially improve sensor force tracking performance and output stability under variable lighting and large (>100C) thermal gradients. By augmenting the least-squares estimate with nonlinear functions describing both environmental disturbances and cross-axis coupling effects, we can reduce the error in Fx, Fy and Fz by 10%, 33%, and 73%, respectively. We assess viability of each algorithm tested in terms of both prediction accuracy and computational overhead, and analyze kernel-based regression for prediction in the context of online force feedback and haptics applications in surgical robotics. Finally, we suggest future work for fast approximation and prediction using stochastic, sparse kernel techniques.
Carrying load alters normal walking, imposes additional stress to the musculoskeletal system, and results in an increase in energy consumption and a consequent earlier onset of fatigue. This phenomenon is largely due to increased work requirements in lower extremity joints, in turn requiring higher muscle activation. The aim of this work was to assess the biomechanical and physiological effects of a multi-joint soft exosuit that applies assistive torques to the biological hip and ankle joints during loaded walking.
Severe skeletal muscle injuries are common and can lead to extensive fibrosis, scarring, and loss of function. Clinically, no therapeutic intervention exists that allows for a full functional restoration. As a result, both drug and cellular therapies are being widely investigated for treatment of muscle injury. Because muscle is known to respond to mechanical loading, we investigated instead whether a material system capable of massage-like compressions could promote regeneration. Magnetic actuation of biphasic ferrogel scaffolds implanted at the site of muscle injury resulted in uniform cyclic compressions that led to reduced fibrous capsule formation around the implant, as well as reduced fibrosis and inflammation in the injured muscle. In contrast, no significant effect of ferrogel actuation on muscle vascularization or perfusion was found. Strikingly, ferrogel-driven mechanical compressions led to enhanced muscle regeneration and a ∼threefold increase in maximum contractile force of the treated muscle at 2 wk compared with no-treatment controls. Although this study focuses on the repair of severely injured skeletal muscle, magnetically stimulated bioagent-free ferrogels may find broad utility in the field of regenerative medicine.
The soft exosuit is a new approach for applying assistive forces over the wearer's body through load paths configured by the textile architecture. In this paper, we present a body-worn lower-extremity soft exosuit and a new control approach that can independently control the level of assistance that is provided during negative- and positive-power periods at the ankle. The exosuit was designed to create load paths assisting ankle plantarflexion and hip flexion, and the actuation system transmits forces from the motors to the suit via Bowden cables. A load cell and two gyro sensors per leg are used to measure real-time data, and the controller performs position control of the cable on a step-by-step basis with respect to the power delivered to the wearer's ankle by controlling two force parameters, the pretension and the active force. Human subjects testing results demonstrate that the controller is capable of modulating the amount of power delivered to the ankle joint. Also, significant reductions in metabolic rate (11%-15%) were observed, which indicates the potential of the proposed control approach to provide benefit to the wearer during walking.
The innovation in surgical robotics has seen a shift toward flexible systems that can access remote locations inside the body. However, a general reliance on the conventional fabrication techniques ultimately limits the complexity and the sophistication of the distal implementations of such systems, and poses a barrier to further innovation and widespread adoption. In this paper, we present a novel, self-assembling force sensor manufactured using a composite lamination fabrication process, wherein linkages pre-machined in the laminate provide the required degrees-of-freedom and fold patterns to facilitate self-assembly. Using the purely 2-D fabrication techniques, the energy contained within a planar elastic biasing element directly integrated into the laminate is released post-fabrication, allowing the sensor to self-assemble into its final 3-D shape. The sensors are batch-fabricated, further driving down the production costs. The transduction mechanism relies on the principle of light intensity modulation, which allows the sensor to detect axial forces with millinewton-level resolution. The geometry of the sensor was selected based on the size constraints inherent in minimally invasive surgery, as well as with a specific focus on optimizing the sensor's linearity. The sensor is unique from the fiber-based force sensors in that the emitter and the detector are encapsulated within the sensor itself. The bare sensor operates over a force range of 0-200 mN, with a sensitivity of 5 V/N and a resolution of 0.8 mN. The experimental results show that the sensor's stiffness can be tuned using a thicker material for the spring layer and/or encapsulation/integration with soft materials. The empirical validation shows that the sensor has the sensitivity and the resolution necessary to discern the biologically relevant forces in a simulated cannulation task.
Introduction: Inclined walking while carrying a loaded backpack induces fatigue, which may destabilize gait and lead to injury. Stochastic resonance (SR) technology has been used to stabilize spatiotemporal gait characteristics of elderly individuals but has not been tested on healthy recreational athletes. Herein, we determined if sustained vigorous walking on an inclined surface while carrying a load destabilizes gait and if SR has a further effect.
Methods: Participants were fitted with a backpack weighing 30% of their body weight and asked to walk at a constant self-selected pace while their feet were tracked using an optical motion capture system. Their shoes were fitted with SR insoles that were set at 90% of the participant’s sensory threshold. The treadmill incline was increased every 5 min until volitional exhaustion after which the treadmill was returned to a level grade. SR stimulation was turned ON and OFF in a pairwise random fashion throughout the protocol. Spatiotemporal gait characteristics were calculated when SR was ON and OFF for the BASELINE period, the MAX perceived exertion period, and the POST period.
Results: Vigorous activity increases variability in the rhythmic stepping (stride time and stride length) and balance control (double support time and stride width) mechanisms of gait. Overall, SR increased stride width variability by 9% before, during, and after a fatiguing exercise.
Conclusion: The increased stride time and stride length variability may compromise the stability of gait during and after vigorous walking. However, participants may compensate by increasing double support time and stride width variability to maintain their stability under these adverse conditions. Furthermore, applying SR resulted in an additional increase of stride width variability and may potentially improve balance before, during, and after adverse walking conditions.
Burgeoning transendoscopic procedures, such as endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD), provide a promising means of treating early-stage gastric neoplasia in a minimally-invasive way. However, the remote locations of these lesions, coupled with their origination in the submucosal layers of the gastrointestinal tract, often lead to extreme technical, cognitive and ergonomic challenges which combat the widespread applicability and adoption of these techniques. Among these challenges is achieving the in vivo dexterity required to retract and dissect tissue. By leveraging workspace and force data obtained through clinical studies, we developed a modular, disposable, distally-mounted actuator (an 'active endcap') that can augment an endoscopist's distal dexterity in ways that are not achievable with the endoscope's built-in degrees-of-freedom. The device consists of a flexible articulating 'exoskeleton' manufactured via printed-circuit MEMS (PCMEMS) which engages and deflects electrosurgical tools that are passed through the endoscopic working channel. Embedded proprioceptive sensing is implemented on-board using distributed LED/phototransistor pairs and the principle of light intensity modulation (LIM). The distal degree-of-freedom is actuated using shape memory alloy (SMA) technology, and the actuation transmission system is fully contained within a 1-inch-long end cap that can be mounted on the distal end of the endoscope, thereby obviating the need for a mechanical connection to a proximal source. Proof-of-concept tests demonstrate that the actuator adds over 50 degrees of distal articulation to existing tools and can generate 450 mN of lateral force which has been clinically determined to be sufficient for performing circumferential incisions in ESD.
This paper introduces a manufacturing technique which enables the integration of soft materials and soft fluidic micro-actuators in the Pop-up book MEMS paradigm. Such a technique represents a promising approach to the design and fabrication of low cost and scalable articulated mechanisms provided with sensing capabilities and on-board actuation with potential applications in the field of minimally invasive surgery. Design and integration of soft components in the rigid-flex laminates is described along with the resulting soft pop-up mechanisms realized at different scales. Prototype characterization is presented, demonstrating forces and dexterity in a range suitable for surgical applications, as well as the possibility to integrate sensing capabilities. Based on these results, a multi-articulated robotic arm is fabricated and mounted on top of an endoscope model to provide a proof of concept of simple robotic mechanisms that could be useful in a surgical scenario.
In this paper we describe an IMU-based iterative controller for hip extension assistance where the onset timing of assistance is based on an estimate of the maximum hip flexion angle. The controller was implemented on a mono-articular soft exosuit coupled to a lab-based multi-joint actuation platform that enables rapid reconfiguration of different sensors and control strategy implementation. The controller design is motivated by a model of the suit-human interface and utilizes an iterative control methodology that includes gait detection and step-by-step actuator position profile generation to control the onset timing, peak timing, and peak magnitude of the delivered force. This controller was evaluated on eight subjects walking on a treadmill at a speed of 1.5 m/s while carrying a load of 23 kg. Results showed that assistance could be delivered reliably across subjects. Specifically, for a given profile, the average delivered force started concurrently with the timing of the maximum hip flexion angle and reached its peak timing 22.7 ± 0.63% later in the gait cycle (desired 23%) with a peak magnitude of 198.2 ± 1.6 N (desired 200 N), equivalent to an average peak torque of 30.5 ± 4.7 Nm. This control approach was used to assess the metabolic effect of four different assistive profiles. Metabolic reductions ranging from 5.7% to 8.5% were found when comparing the powered conditions with the unpowered condition. This work enables studies to assess the biomechanical and physiological responses to different assistive profiles to determine the optimal hip extension assistance during walking.