An Underwater Robotic Manipulator with Soft Bladders and Compact Depth-Independent Actuation.
ABSTRACT: An underwater manipulator is essential for underwater robotic sampling and other service operations. Conventional rigid body underwater manipulators generally required substantial size and weight, leading to hindered general applications. Pioneering soft robotic underwater manipulators have defied this by offering dexterous and lightweight arms and grippers, but still requiring substantial actuation and control components to withstand the water pressure and achieving the desired dynamic performance. In this work, we propose a novel approach to underwater manipulator design and control, exploiting the unique characteristics of soft robots, with a hybrid structure (rigid frame+soft actuator) for improved rigidity and force output, a uniform actuator design allowing one compact hydraulic actuation system to drive all actuators, and a novel fully customizable soft bladder design that improves performances in multiple areas: (1) force output of the actuator is decoupled from the working depth, enabling wide working ranges; (2) all actuators are connected to the main hydraulic line without actuator-specific control loop, resulting in a very compact actuation system especially for high-dexterity cases; (3) dynamic responses were improved significantly compared with the counter system without bladder. A prototype soft manipulator with 4-DOFs, dual bladders, and 15?N payload was developed; the entire system (including actuation, control, and batteries) could be mounted onto a consumer-grade remotely operated vehicle, with depth-independent performances validated by various laboratory and field test results across various climatic and hydrographic conditions. Analytical models and validations of the proposed soft bladder design were also presented as a guideline for other applications.
Project description:The interaction of a robotic manipulator with unknown soft objects represents a significant challenge for traditional robotic platforms because of the difficulty in controlling the grasping force between a soft object and a stiff manipulator. Soft robotic actuators inspired by elephant trunks, octopus limbs and muscular hydrostats are suggestive of ways to overcome this fundamental difficulty. In particular, the large intrinsic compliance of soft manipulators such as 'pneu-nets'-pneumatically actuated elastomeric structures-makes them ideal for applications that require interactions with an uncertain mechanical and geometrical environment. Using a simple theoretical model, we show how the geometric and material nonlinearities inherent in the passive mechanical response of such devices can be used to grasp soft objects using force control, and stiff objects using position control, without any need for active sensing or feedback control. Our study is suggestive of a general principle for designing actuators with autonomous intrinsic impedance control.
Project description:Non-destructive handling of soft biological samples at the cellular level is becoming increasingly relevant in life sciences. In particular, spatially dense arrangements of soft manipulators with the capability of <i>in situ</i> monitoring via optical and electron microscopes promises new and exciting experimental techniques. The currently available manipulation technologies offer high positioning accuracy, yet these devices significantly grow in complexity in achieving compliance. We explore soft and compliant actuator material with a mechanical response similar to gel-like samples for perspective miniaturized manipulators. First, we demonstrate three techniques for rendering the bulk sheet-like electroactive material, the ionic and capacitive laminate (ICL), into a practical manipulator. We then show that these manipulators are also highly compatible with electron optics. Finally, we explore the performance of an ICL manipulator in handling a single large cell. Intrinsic compliance, miniature size, simple current-driven actuation, and negligible interference with the imaging technologies suggest a considerable perspective for the ICL in spatially dense arrays of compliant manipulators for microscopy.
Project description:In recent years, light-guided robotic soft actuators have attracted intense scientific attention and rapidly developed, although it still remains challenging to precisely and reversibly modulate the moving directions and shape morphing modes of soft actuators with ease of stimulating operation. Here we report a strategy of building a multi-stimuli-responsive liquid crystal elastomer soft actuator system capable of performing not only multi-directional movement, but also different shape morphing modes. This strategy is based on the selective stimulation of specific domains of the hierarchical structured actuator through the modulation of three wavelength bands (520, 808, 980 nm) of light stimulus, which release the actuation system from light scanning position/direction restriction. Three near-infrared dual-wavelength modulated actuators and one visible/infrared tri-wavelength modulated multi-directional walker robot are demonstrated in this work. These devices have broad application prospects in robotic and biomimetic technology.
Project description:Most soft pneumatic actuators for producing bending actuation have made use of either positive or negative pressure and adjusted their design in consequence. In the proposed paper, a novel soft bending actuator using combined positive and negative pressures (PNP) where the bending force of a negative pressure actuator and a positive pressure actuator is combined into a single actuating structure. This actuator is capable of producing a blocked force as high as 150 N at a combined positive pressure of 60 kPa and negative pressure of 60 kPa while still being able to produce large bending deformations. It was found that the equilibrium angle of PNP actuation is lower than using only negative pressure but that the actuator can produce larger forces at angles below the equilibrium angle of using positive pressure only. The actuator can use PNP actuation to produce large forces at lower bending angles and negative pressure actuation for producing large bending angles. This actuator was implemented in a soft robotic gripper capable of lifting large objects weighing up to 4 kg and a soft pinching gripper capable of holding a notebook weighing 1.85 kg by pinching it. The proposed actuator is capable of large forces and is versatile such that it is expected to be used in applications such as agriculture where many objects tend to be large and heavy yet require a delicate touch.
Project description:Soft robotic systems are increasingly emerging as robust alternatives to conventional robotics. Here, we demonstrate the development of programmable soft actuators based on volume expansion/retraction accompanying liquid-vapor phase transition of a phase-change material confined within an elastomer matrix. The combination of a soft matrix (a silicone-based elastomer) and an embedded ethanol-impregnated polyacrylonitrile nanofiber (PAN NF) mat makes it possible to form a sealed compound device that can be operated by changing the actuator temperature above/below the boiling point of ethanol. The thermo-responsive actuators based on this principle demonstrate excellent bending ability at a sufficiently high temperature (>90 °C) - comparable with compressed air-based soft actuators. The actuator using the mechanism presented here is easy to manufacture and automate and is recyclable. Finally, the actuation mechanism can be incorporated into a wide variety of shapes and configurations, making it possible to obtain tunable and programmable soft robots that could have a wide variety of industrial applications.
Project description:Sensing-actuation systems can assist a bladder with lost sensation and weak muscle control. Here, we advance the relevant technology by integrating a soft and thin capacitive sensor with a shape memory alloy-based actuator to achieve a high-performance closed-loop configuration. In our design, sensors capable of continuous bladder volume detection and actuators with strong emptying force have been used. This integration has previously hindered performance due to large bladder volume changes. Our solution integrates sensing-actuation elements that are bladder compatible but do not interfere with one another, achieving real-time bladder management. The system attains a highly desirable voiding target of 71 to 100% of a rat's bladder with a volume sensitivity of 0.7 ?F/liter. Our system represents an efficient voiding solution that avoids overfilling and represents a technological solution to bladder impairment treatment, serving as a model for similar soft sensor-actuator integration with other organs.
Project description:Soft robotic systems generally require both soft actuators and soft sensors to perform complex functions. Separate actuators and sensors are often combined into one composite device when proprioception (self-sensing) is required. In this article, we introduce the concept of using a conductive liquid to perform both the sensing and actuation functions of a proprioceptive soft actuator. The working fluid drives actuator deformation while simultaneously acting as a strain-sensing component for detecting actuator deformation. The concept is examined and demonstrated in two proprioceptive flexible fluidic actuators (FFAs) that use conductive liquids as their working fluids: a linear actuator and a bending actuator. In both cases, we show that resistance can be used to infer strain. Some hysteresis and nonlinearity are present, but repeatability is high. The bandwidth of resistance as a sensing variable in the bending FFA is tested and found to be ?3.665?Hz. Resistance is demonstrated as a feedback variable in a control loop, and the proprioceptive bending FFA is controlled to respond to step input and sinusoidal target functions. The effect of temperature on resistance-strain behavior is also examined, and we demonstrate how measurement of volume and resistance can be used to detect when the actuator is constrained. Biocompatible proprioceptive soft actuators such as those presented in this article are ideal for use in low-cost bionic healthcare components such as orthotics, prosthetics, or even replacement muscles.
Project description:We report on the design and the modeling of a three-dimensional (3D) printed flexure-based actuation mechanism for robotic microtweezers, the main body of which is a single piece of nylon. Our design aims to fill a void in sample manipulation between two classes of widely used instruments: nano-scale and macro-scale robotic manipulators. The key component is a uniquely designed cam flexure system, which linearly translates the bending of a piezoelectric bimorph actuator into angular displacement. The 3D printing made it possible to realize the fabrication of the cam with a specifically calculated curve, which would otherwise be costly using conventional milling techniques. We first characterized 3D printed nylon by studying sets of simple cantilevers, which provided fundamental characteristics that could be used for further designs. The finite element method analysis based on the obtained material data matched well with the experimental data. The tweezers showed angular displacement from 0° to 10° linearly to the deflection of the piezo actuator (0-1.74 mm) with the linearity error of 0.1°. Resonant frequency of the system with/without working tweezer tips was discovered as 101 Hz and 127 Hz, respectively. Our design provides simple and low-cost construction of a versatile manipulator system for samples in the micro/meso-scale (0.1-1 mm).
Project description:Ionic polymer-metal composites (IPMCs) have recently received tremendous interest as soft biomimetic actuators and sensors in various bioengineering and human affinity applications, such as artificial muscles and actuators, aquatic propulsors, robotic end-effectors, and active catheters. Main challenges in developing biomimetic actuators are the attainment of high strain and actuation force at low operating voltage. Here we first report a nanostructured electrode surface design for IPMC comprising platinum nanothorn assemblies with multiple sharp tips. The newly developed actuator with the nanostructured electrodes shows a new way to achieve highly enhanced electromechanical performance over existing flat-surfaced electrodes. We demonstrate that the formation and growth of the nanothorn assemblies at the electrode interface lead to a dramatic improvement (3- to 5-fold increase) in both actuation range and blocking force at low driving voltage (1-3 V). These advances are related to the highly capacitive properties of nanothorn assemblies, increasing significantly the charge transport during the actuation process.
Project description:Nature has inspired the design of robots in which soft actuators enable tasks such as handling of fragile objects and adapting to unstructured environments. Those tasks are difficult for traditional robots, which predominantly consist of hard components. Electrohydraulic soft actuators are liquid-filled shells that deform upon the application of electric fields; they excel among soft actuators with muscle-like force outputs and actuation strains, and with actuation frequencies above 100 Hz. However, the fundamental physics that governs the dynamics of electrohydraulic soft actuators is unexplored. Here, we study the dynamics of electrohydraulic soft actuators using the Peano-HASEL (hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic) actuator as a model system. Using experiments and a scaling analysis, we discover two dynamic regimes: a regime in which viscous dissipation reduces the actuation speed and a regime governed by inertial effects in which high-speed actuation is possible. For each regime, we derive a timescale that describes the influence of geometry, materials system, and applied external loads on the actuation speed. We also derive a model to study the dynamic behavior of Peano-HASEL actuators in both regimes. Although this analysis focuses on the Peano-HASEL actuator, the presented results may readily be generalized to other electrohydraulic actuators. When designed to operate in the inertial regime, electrohydraulic actuators will enable bio-inspired robots with unprecedented speeds of motion.