Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a soft robot that could lead to fully untethered robots for space exploration, search and rescue systems, biomimetics, medical surgery, rehabilitation, and other uses. One key to making the soft robot is that it uses pressurized air to replace multiple control systems with one input.
That allows the designers to build robots that have fewer components needed to control the robot, making it lighter and less complex. The scientists harnessed the viscosity of a fluid. The team carefully selected tubes of different sizes to control how quickly air moved through the soft robot device. A Single input pumps the same amount of air through one of the tubes, and the size of the tube determines how and where air flows.
The team was able to develop a framework that automatically determines how a soft robot should be made and how the tubes should be selected. The framework also has to do with how it would be actuated to achieve a target function, such as crawling or walking with a single input line. Using these systems, the team showed off a four-legged, soft robot that can crawl.
The four tubes that jut out of the top direct air to each leg in sequence to allow the robot to crawl. Researcher Katia Bertoldi said that the team’s work represents the first time a strategy has been used that can make simply actuated fluidic soft robots based on viscous flow.
She says that the actuation of soft fluidic robots is simpler and easier than ever, thanks to the team’s work. The new approach is a significant step towards fully untethered soft robots that are simply actuated. Harvard University, where the research was conducted, is currently exploring commercialization opportunities for the technology.
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