Engineers from Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering have designed simplified soft robots that could be used for untethered space exploration, search and rescue, biomimetics, surgery, and more. The simplified system is powered by pressurized air, which replaces multiple systems with a single input, and reduces the robot’s weight and the number of components needed to power the platform.
“Before this research, we couldn’t build fluidic soft robots without independently controlling each actuator through separate input lines and pressure supplies and a complex actuation process. Now, we can embed the functionality of fluidic soft robots in their design, allowing for a substantial simplification in their actuation.” — Nikolaos Vasios, SEAS grad student and lead engineer
The engineers used the power of the viscosity of fluid, and employed that principle to design different-sized tubes to control how quickly air moves through the robots. A single input pumps air through one of those tubes, and the size determines where and how the air flows. The engineering team laid the framework that determines how soft robots can be made, and which tubes should be selected to actuate a target function — including crawling or walking in specific directions.
The team demonstrated their platform on a four-legged soft robot using a series of tubes embedded into the top of the robot, along with a single air input line. Different tube connections allowed for varied locomotion, letting the robot inch-along in a predetermined direction by actuating its legs. The engineers state that the actuation of fluidic robots will be easier to accomplish, and they are currently looking for commercialization opportunities.