skip to main content

Title: Cable-Driven Jamming of a Boundary Constrained Soft Robot
Soft robots employ flexible and compliant materials to perform adaptive tasks and navigate uncertain environments. However, soft robots are often unable to achieve forces and precision on the order of rigid-bodied robots. In this paper, we propose a new class of mobile soft robots that can reversibly transition between compliant and stiff states without reconfiguration. The robot can passively conform or actively control its shape, stiffen in its current configuration to function as a rigid-bodied robot, then return to its flexible form. The robotic structure consists of passive granular material surrounded by an active membrane. The membrane is composed of interconnected robotic sub-units that can control the packing density of the granular material and exploit jamming behaviors by varying the length of the interconnecting cables. Each robotic sub-unit uses a differential drive system to achieve locomotion and self-reconfigurability. We present the robot design and perform a set of locomotion and object manipulation experiments to characterize the robot's performance in soft and rigid states. We also introduce a simulation framework in which we model the jamming soft robot design and study the scalability of this class of robots. The proposed concept demonstrates the properties of both soft and rigid robots, and more » has the potential to bridge the gap between the two « less
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
2020 3rd IEEE International Conference on Soft Robotics (RoboSoft)
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
852 to 857
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. This paper describes a new type of compliant and configurable soft robot, a boundary-constrained swarm. The robot consists of a sealed flexible membrane that constrains both a number of mobile robotic subunits and passive granular material. The robot can change the volume fraction of the sealed membrane by applying a vacuum, which gives the robot the ability to operate in two distinct states: compliant and jammed. The compliant state allows the robot to surround and conform to objects or pass through narrow corridors. Jamming allows the robot to form a desired shape; grasp, (a) manipulate, and exert relatively high forces on external objects; and achieve relatively higher locomotion speeds. Locomotion is achieved with a combination of whegs (wheeled legs) and vibration motors that are located on the robotic subunits. The paper describes the mechanical design of the robot, the control methodology, and its object handling capability.
  2. Recent studies on dynamic legged locomotion have focused on incorporating passive compliant elements into robot legs which can help with energy efficiency and stability, enabling them to work in wide range of environments. In this work, we present the design and testing of a soft robotic foot capable of active stiffness control using granular jamming. This foot is designed and tested to be used on soft, flowable ground such as sand. Granular jamming feet enable passive foot shape change when in contact with the ground for adaptability to uneven surfaces, and can also actively change stiffness for the ability to apply sufficient propulsion forces. We seek to study the role of shape change and stiffness change in foot-ground interactions during foot-fall impact and shear. We have measured the acceleration during impact, surface traction force, and the force to pull the foot out of the medium for different states of the foot. We have demonstrated that the control of foot stiffness and shape using the proposed foot design leads to improved locomotion, specifically an approximately 52% reduced foot deceleration at the joints after impact, an approximately 63% reduced depth of penetration in the sand on impact, higher shear force capabilities formore »a constant depth above the ground, and an approximately 98% reduced pullout force compared to a rigid foot.« less
  3. Soft-bodied animals, such as earthworms, are capable of contorting their body to squeeze through narrow spaces, create or enlarge burrows, and move on uneven ground. In many applications such as search and rescue, inspection of pipes and medical procedures, it may be useful to have a hollow-bodied robot with skin separating inside and outside. Textiles can be key to such skins. Inspired by earthworms, we developed two new robots: FabricWorm and MiniFabricWorm. We explored the application of fabric in soft robotics and how textile can be integrated along with other structural elements, such as three-dimensional (3D) printed parts, linear springs, and flexible nylon tubes. The structure of FabricWorm consists of one third the number of rigid pieces as compared to its predecessor Compliant Modular Mesh Worm-Steering (CMMWorm-S), while the structure of MiniFabricWorm consists of no rigid components. This article presents the design of such a mesh and its limitations in terms of structural softness. We experimentally measured the stiffness properties of these robots and compared them directly to its predecessors. FabricWorm and MiniFabricWorm are capable of peristaltic locomotion with a maximum speed of 33 cm/min (0.49 body-lengths/min) and 13.8 cm/min (0.25 body-lengths/min), respectively.
  4. Thanks to their flexibility, soft robotic devices offer critical advantages over rigid robots, allowing adaptation to uncertainties in the environment. As such, soft robots enable various intriguing applications, including human-safe interaction devices, soft active rehabilitation devices, and soft grippers for pick-and-place tasks in industrial environments. In most cases, soft robots use pneumatic actuation to inflate the channels in a compliant material to obtain the movement of the structure. However, due to their flexibility and nonlinear behavior, as well as the compressibility of air, controlled movements of the soft robotic structure are difficult to attain. Obtaining physically-based mathematical models, which would enable the development of suitable control approaches for soft robots, constitutes thus a critical challenge in the field. The aim of this work is, therefore, to predict the movement of a pneumatic soft robot by using a data-driven approach based on the Koopman operator framework. The Koopman operator allows simplifying a nonlinear system by“lifting” its dynamics into a higher dimensional space, where its behavior can be accurately approximated by a linear model, thus allowing a significant reduction of the complexity of the design of the resulting controllers.
  5. A fundamental challenge in the field of modular and collective robots is balancing the trade-off between unit- level simplicity, which allows scalability, and unit-level function- ality, which allows meaningful behaviors of the collective. At the same time, a challenge in the field of soft robotics is creating untethered systems, especially at a large scale with many controlled degrees of freedom (DOF). As a contribution toward addressing these challenges, here we present an untethered, soft cellular robot unit. A single unit is simple and one DOF, yet can increase its volume by 8x and apply substantial forces to the environment, can modulate its surface friction, and can switch its unit-to-unit cohesion while agnostic to unit-to- unit orientation. As a soft robot, it is robust and can achieve untethered operation of its DOF. We present the design of the unit, a volumetric actuator with a perforated strain-limiting fabric skin embedded with magnets surrounding an elastomeric membrane, which in turn encompasses a low-cost micro-pump, battery, and control electronics. We model and test this unit and show simple demonstrations of three-unit configurations that lift, crawl, and perform plate manipulation. Our untethered, soft cellular robot unit lays the foundation for new robust soft robotic collectivesmore »that have the potential to apply human-scale forces to the world.« less