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Invertebrates Inspire First Fully 3D Printed Active Materials for Robots

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The researchers were investigating new methods for emulating the locomotion of invertebrates in robots.

A joint U.S. Army Research Laboratory and University of Minnesota research project sought inspiration from invertebrates to overcome limitations to how current military robots move.

Credit: Shutterstock

Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and the University of Minnesota (UMN) have developed soft actuator prototypes using active materials with tunable parameters.

The prototypes are the first fully three-dimensionally-printed dielectric elastomer actuators to perform high bending motion.

The researchers based the prototypes on the locomotion of invertebrates, which provided insights into the mechanization of the soft distributed actuation circuitries that permit high bending motions without skeletal support, says UMN professor Michael McAlpine.

This breakthrough that could lead to an autonomous freeform fabrication platform to generate soft actuators and potentially tetherless soft robots on demand.

ARL produced a generalized model using an energetic formulation approach, which helped identify two mechanisms for enabling high bending motion in soft biological actuators: tuning physical properties by leveraging the interplay between the materials and dynamic nonlinearities to augment the motion, and highlighting electromechanical coupling between the electrical field and nonlinear structural stiffness through the distributive actuation circuitries.

From U.S. Army Research Laboratory
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