In a recent study published in Advanced Intelligent Systems, an international team of researchers led by Cornell University examined the potential for creating soft robots that demonstrate greater amounts of agility and control through a system of fluid-driven actuators. This study holds the potential improve the freedom of movement for these unique robotic creations.
"Soft robots have a very simple structure but can have much more flexible functionality than their rigid cousins. They're sort of the ultimate embodied intelligent robot," Dr. Kirstin Petersen, who is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell, and a co-author on the study, said in a statement. "Most soft robots these days are fluid-driven. In the past, most people have looked at how we could get extra bang for our bucks by embedding functionality into the robot material, like the elastomer. Instead, we asked ourselves how we could do more with less by utilizing how the fluid interacts with that material."
For the study, the researchers used viscosity, which had previously hindered the mobility of soft robots, to allow greater freedom of movement. They did this by connecting a series of elastomer bellows with slender tubes that allowed what’s known as antagonistic motions, or where one pulls, and one pushes. Using a descriptive model that predicted the potential motions of the actuators, the results were achieving far greater complex motions than previously achieved.
Using this new method, the researchers constructed a six-legged soft robot capable of walking 0.05 body lengths per second, along with being able to crouch, as well. But this is just a first step towards developing soft robots with greater agility and control.
"We detailed the full complement of methods by which you can design these actuators for future applications," Dr. Petersen said in a statement. "For example, when the actuators are used as legs, we show that just by crossing over one set of tubes, you can go from an ostrich-like gait, that has a really wide stance, to an elephant-like trot."
It is believed this new fluid-driven actuator could potentially be used for devices such as robot arms, and Dr. Petersen is interested in experimenting with the bellows with 3D configurations.
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