A hybrid manufacturing paradigm is introduced that combines pop-up book microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) manufacturing with soft-lithographic techniques to produce millimeter-scale mechanisms with embedded sensing and user-defined distributed compliance. This method combines accuracy, flexibility in material selection, scalability, and topological complexity with soft, biocompatible materials and microfluidics, paving the way for applications of soft fluid-powered biomedical robotics. This paper proposes two classes of fully soft fluidic microactuators and two integration strategies to demonstrate the hybrid soft pop-up actuators. Fatigue properties, blocked torque, maximum deflection, stiffness, and maximum speed are analyzed and the performance of the hybrid mechanisms is compared to their fully soft counterparts. The manufacturing approach allows integrating capacitive sensing elements in the mechanisms to achieve proprioceptive actuation. Multiple hybrid soft pop-up actuators are combined into a multiarticulated robotic arm that is integrated with current flexible endoscopes to improve distal dexterity and enable tissue retraction in an ex vivo proof of concept experiment.
Background Different groups developed wearable robots for walking assistance, but there is still a need for methods to quickly tune actuation parameters for each robot and population or sometimes even for individual users. Protocols where parameters are held constant for multiple minutes have traditionally been used for evaluating responses to parameter changes such as metabolic rate or walking symmetry. However, these discrete protocols are time-consuming. Recently, protocols have been proposed where a parameter is changed in a continuous way. The aim of the present study was to compare effects of continuously varying assistance magnitude with a soft exosuit against discrete step conditions.
Methods Seven participants walked on a treadmill wearing a soft exosuit that assists plantarflexion and hip flexion. In Continuous-up, peak exosuit ankle moment linearly increased from approximately 0 to 38% of biological moment over 10 min. Continuous-down was the opposite. In Discrete, participants underwent five periods of 5 min with steady peak moment levels distributed over the same range as Continuous-up and Continuous-down. We calculated metabolic rate for the entire Continuous-up and Continuous-down conditions and the last 2 min of each Discrete force level. We compared kinematics, kinetics and metabolic rate between conditions by curve fitting versus peak moment.
Results Reduction in metabolic rate compared to Powered-off was smaller in Continuous-up than in Continuous-down at most peak moment levels, due to physiological dynamics causing metabolic measurements in Continuous-up and Continuous-down to lag behind the values expected during steady-state testing. When evaluating the average slope of metabolic reduction over the entire peak moment range there was no significant difference between Continuous-down and Discrete. Attempting to correct the lag in metabolics by taking the average of Continuous-up and Continuous-down removed all significant differences versus Discrete. For kinematic and kinetic parameters, there were no differences between all conditions.
Conclusions The finding that there were no differences in biomechanical parameters between all conditions suggests that biomechanical parameters can be recorded with the shortest protocol condition (i.e. single Continuous directions). The shorter time and higher resolution data of continuous sweep protocols hold promise for the future study of human interaction with wearable robots.
This paper presents design and batch manufacturing of a highly stretchable textile-silicone capacitive sensor to be used in human articulation detection, soft robotics, and exoskeletons. The proposed sensor is made of conductive knit fabric as electrode and silicone elastomer as dielectric. The batch manufacturing technology enables production of large sensor mat and arbitrary shaping of sensors, which is precisely achieved via laser cutting of the sensor mat. Individual capacitive sensors exhibit high linearity, low hysteresis, and a gauge factor of 1.23. Compliant, low-profile, and robust electrical connections are established by fusing filaments of micro coaxial cable to conductive fabric electrodes of the sensor with thermoplastic film. The capacitive sensors are integrated on a reconstructed glove for monitoring finger motions.
Background Only very recently, studies have shown that it is possible to reduce the metabolic rate of unloaded and loaded walking using robotic ankle exoskeletons. Some studies obtained this result by means of high positive work assistance while others combined negative and positive work assistance. There is no consensus about the isolated contribution of negative work assistance. Therefore, the aim of the present study is to examine the effect of varying negative work assistance at the ankle joint while maintaining a fixed level of positive work assistance with a multi-articular soft exosuit.
Methods We tested eight participants during walking at 1.5 ms−1 with a 23-kg backpack. Participants wore a version of the exosuit that assisted plantarflexion via Bowden cables tethered to an off-board actuation platform. In four active conditions we provided different rates of exosuit bilateral ankle negative work assistance ranging from 0.015 to 0.037 W kg−1 and a fixed rate of positive work assistance of 0.19 W kg−1.
Results All active conditions significantly reduced metabolic rate by 11 to 15% compared to a reference condition, where the participants wore the exosuit but no assistance was provided. We found no significant effect of negative work assistance. However, there was a trend (p = .08) toward greater reduction in metabolic rate with increasing negative work assistance, which could be explained by observed reductions in biological ankle and hip joint power and moment.
Conclusions The non-significant trend of increasing negative work assistance with increasing reductions in metabolic rate motivates the value in further studies on the relative effects of negative and positive work assistance. There may be benefit in varying negative work over a greater range or in isolation from positive work assistance.
Wearable sensing technology is an emerging area and can be utilized for human motion monitoring, physiology monitoring, and human–machine interaction. In this paper, a new manufacturing approach is presented to create highly stretchable and soft capacitance-based strain sensors. This involves a rapid surface modification technique based on direct-write laser rastering to create microstructured surfaces on prestrained elastomeric sheets. Then, to impart conductivity, sputtering technology is utilized to deposit aluminum and silver metal layers on the bottom and top surfaces of the elastomer sheet, creating a soft capacitor. During benchtop characterization of the sensors, this study demonstrates that the fabricated electrodes maintain their electrical conductivity up to the 250% strain, and the sensor shows a linear and repeatable output up to 85% strain. Finally, their potential is demonstrated for monitoring human motion and respiration through their integration into a wearable arm sleeve and a thoracic belt, respectively.
Background Wearable assistive devices have demonstrated the potential to improve mobility outcomes for individuals with disabilities, and to augment healthy human performance; however, these benefits depend on how effectively power is transmitted from the device to the human user. Quantifying and understanding this power transmission is challenging due to complex human-device interface dynamics that occur as biological tissues and physical interface materials deform and displace under load, absorbing and returning power.
Methods Here we introduce a new methodology for quickly estimating interface power dynamics during movement tasks using common motion capture and force measurements, and then apply this method to quantify how a soft robotic ankle exosuit interacts with and transfers power to the human body during walking. We partition exosuit end-effector power (i.e., power output from the device) into power that augments ankle plantarflexion (termed augmentation power) vs. power that goes into deformation and motion of interface materials and underlying soft tissues (termed interface power).
Results We provide empirical evidence of how human-exosuit interfaces absorb and return energy, reshaping exosuit-to-human power flow and resulting in three key consequences: (i) During exosuit loading (as applied forces increased), about 55% of exosuit end-effector power was absorbed into the interfaces. (ii) However, during subsequent exosuit unloading (as applied forces decreased) most of the absorbed interface power was returned viscoelastically. Consequently, the majority (about 75%) of exosuit end-effector work over each stride contributed to augmenting ankle plantarflexion. (iii) Ankle augmentation power (and work) was delayed relative to exosuit end-effector power, due to these interface energy absorption and return dynamics.
Conclusions Our findings elucidate the complexities of human-exosuit interface dynamics during transmission of power from assistive devices to the human body, and provide insight into improving the design and control of wearable robots. We conclude that in order to optimize the performance of wearable assistive devices it is important, throughout design and evaluation phases, to account for human-device interface dynamics that affect power transmission and thus human augmentation benefits.
We introduce an implantable intracardiac soft robotic right ventricular ejection device (RVED) for dynamic approximation of the right ventricular (RV) free wall and the interventricular septum (IVS) in synchrony with the cardiac cycle to augment blood ejection in right heart failure (RHF). The RVED is designed for safe and effective intracardiac operation and consists of an anchoring system deployed across the IVS, an RV free wall anchor, and a pneumatic artificial muscle linear actuator that spans the RV chamber between the two anchors. Using a ventricular simulator and a custom controller, we characterized ventricular volume ejection, linear approximation against different loads and the effect of varying device actuation periods on volume ejection. The RVED was then tested in vivo in adult pigs (n = 5). First, we successfully deployed the device into the beating heart under 3D echocardiography guidance (n = 4). Next, we performed a feasibility study to evaluate the device's ability to augment RV ejection in an experimental model of RHF (n = 1). RVED actuation augmented RV ejection during RHF; while further chronic animal studies will provide details about the efficacy of this support device. These results demonstrate successful design and implementation of the RVED and its deployment into the beating heart. This soft robotic ejection device has potential to serve as a rapidly deployable system for mechanical circulatory assistance in RHF.
When defining requirements for any wearable robot for walking assistance, it is important to maximize the user’s metabolic benefit resulting from the exosuit assistance while limiting the metabolic penalty of carrying the system’s mass. Thus, the aim of this study was to isolate and characterize the relationship between assistance magnitude and the metabolic cost of walking while also examining changes to the wearer’s underlying gait mechanics. The study was performed with a tethered multiarticular soft exosuit during normal walking, where assistance was directly applied at the ankle joint and indirectly at the hip due to a textile architecture. The exosuit controller was designed such that the delivered torque profile at the ankle joint approximated that of the biological torque during normal walking. Seven participants walked on a treadmill at 1.5 meters per second under one unpowered and four powered conditions, where the peak moment applied at the ankle joint was varied from about 10 to 38% of biological ankle moment (equivalent to an applied force of 18.7 to 75.0% of body weight). Results showed that, with increasing exosuit assistance, net metabolic rate continually decreased within the tested range. When maximum assistance was applied, the metabolic rate of walking was reduced by 22.83 ± 3.17% relative to the powered-off condition (mean ± SEM).
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.