To create a soft robot that moves organically, Harvard University researchers have developed a method to automatically design soft actuators based on the desired movement.
"We wanted a tool where you could plug in a motion and it would tell you how to design the actuator to achieve that motion," says Harvard professor Katia Bertoldi.
One actuator type is not enough to produce complex motions, as the technology requires a sequence of actuator segments, each performing a different motion. They also must be actuated using a single input, notes Harvard graduate student Fionnuala Connolly.
The new method uses mathematical modeling of fluid-powered, fiber-reinforced actuators to optimize the design of an actuator to perform a certain motion. The researchers used this model to design a soft robot that bends like an index finger and twists like a thumb when powered by a single pressure source.
Harvard professor Conor Walsh says the research "can be used to design a robot arm that moves along a certain path or a wearable robot that assists with motion of a limb."
The new method will be included in the Soft Robotic Toolkit, an online, open source resource to assist researchers, educators, and innovators to build and control soft robots.
From Harvard University
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