skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Friday, April 12 until 2:00 AM ET on Saturday, April 13 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: A Tip Mount for Transporting Sensors and Tools using Soft Growing Robots
Pneumatically operated soft growing robots that extend via tip eversion are well-suited for navigation in confined spaces. Adding the ability to interact with the environment using sensors and tools attached to the robot tip would greatly enhance the usefulness of these robots for exploration in the field. However, because the material at the tip of the robot body continually changes as the robot grows and retracts, it is challenging to keep sensors and tools attached to the robot tip during actuation and environment interaction. In this paper, we analyze previous designs for mounting to the tip of soft growing robots, and we present a novel device that successfully remains attached to the robot tip while providing a mounting point for sensors and tools. Our tip mount incorporates and builds on our previous work on a device to retract the robot without undesired buckling of its body. Using our tip mount, we demonstrate two new soft growing robot capabilities: (1) pulling on the environment while retracting, and (2) retrieving and delivering objects. Finally, we discuss the limitations of our design and opportunities for improvement in future soft growing robot tip mounts.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS)
Page Range / eLocation ID:
8781 to 8788
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. null (Ed.)
    Soft, tip-extending, pneumatic “vine robots” that grow via eversion are well suited for navigating cluttered environments. Two key mechanisms that add to the robot’s functionality are a tip-mounted retraction device that allows the growth process to be reversed, and a tip-mounted camera that enables vision. However, previous designs used rigid, relatively heavy electromechanical retraction devices and external camera mounts, which reduce some advantages of these robots. These designs prevent the robot from squeezing through tight gaps, make it challenging to lift the robot tip against gravity, and require the robot to drag components against the environment. To address these limitations, we present a soft, pneumatically driven retraction device and an internal camera mount that are both lightweight and smaller than the diameter of the robot. The retraction device is composed of a soft, extending pneumatic actuator and a pair of soft clamping actuators that work together in an inch-worming motion. The camera mount sits inside the robot body and is kept at the tip of the robot by two low-friction interlocking components. We present characterizations of our retraction device and demonstrations that the robot can grow and retract through turns, tight gaps, and sticky environments while transmitting live video from the tip. Our designs advance the ability of everting vine robots to navigate difficult terrain while collecting data. 
    more » « less
  2. null (Ed.)
    Soft, tip-extending devices, or “vine robots,” are a promising new paradigm for navigating cluttered and confined environments. Because they lengthen from their tips, there is little relative movement of the body with the environment, and the compressible nature of the device allows it to pass through orifices smaller than its diameter. However, the interaction between these devices and the environment is not well characterized. Here we present a comprehensive mathematical model that describes vine robot behavior during environmental interaction that provides a basis from which informed designs can be generated in future works. The model incorporates transverse and axial buckling modes that result from growing into obstacles with varying surface normals, as well as internal path-dependent and independent resistances to growth. Accordingly, the model is able to predict the pressure required to grow through a given environment due to the interaction forces it experiences. We experimentally validate both the individual components and the full model. Finally, we present three design insights from the model and demonstrate how they each improve performance in confined space navigation. Our work helps advance the understanding of tip-extending, vine robots through quantifying their interactions with the environment, opening the door for new designs and impactful applications in the realms of healthcare, research, search and rescue, and space exploration. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    Continuum robots have high degrees of freedom and the ability to safely move in constrained environments. One class of soft continuum robot is the “vine” robot. This type of robot extends from its tip by everting or unfurling new material, driven by internal body pressure. Most vine robot examples store new body material in a reel at their base, passing it through the core of the robot to the tip, and like many continuum robots, steer by selectively lengthening or shortening one side of the body. While this approach to steering and material storage lends itself to a fully soft device, it has three key limitations: (i) internal friction of material passing through the core of the robot limits its length in tortuous paths, (ii) body buckling as the robot's body material is re-spooled at the base can prevent retraction, and (iii) constant curvature steering limits the robot's poses and object approach angles in a given workspace. This letter presents a hybrid soft-rigid robotic system comprising a soft vine robot body and a rigid, mobile, internal steering-reeling mechanism (SRM); this SRM is equipped with a reel for material storage, a bending actuator for steering, and is capable of actuating the robot at any point along its length. This hybrid configuration increases reach along tortuous paths, allows retraction, and increases the workspace. We describe the motivation for the device, generate its mathematical models, present its methods of operation, and verify experimentally the models we developed and the performance improvements over previous vine robots. 
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    Soft, tip-extending "vine" robots offer a unique mode of inspection and manipulation in highly constrained environments. For practicality, it is desirable that the distal end of the robot can be manipulated freely, while the body remains stationary. However, in previous vine robots, either the shape of the body was fixed after growth with no ability to manipulate the distal end, or the whole body moved together with the tip. Here, we present a concept for shape-locking that enables a vine robot to move only its distal tip, while the body is locked in place. This is achieved using two inextensible, pressurized, tip-extending, chambers that "grow" along the sides of the robot body, preserving curvature in the section where they have been deployed. The length of the locked and free sections can be varied by controlling the extension and retraction of these chambers. We present models describing this shape-locking mechanism and workspace of the robot in both free and constrained environments. We experimentally validate these models, showing an increased dexterous workspace compared to previous vine robots. Our shape-locking concept allows improved performance for vine robots, advancing the field of soft robotics for inspection and manipulation in highly constrained environments. 
    more » « less
  5. Shape change enables new capabilities for robots. One class of robots capable of dramatic shape change is soft growing “vine” robots. These robots usually feature global actuation methods for bending that limit them to simple, constant-curvature shapes. Achieving more complex “multi-bend” configurations has also been explored but requires choosing the desired configuration ahead of time, exploiting contact with the environment to maintain previous bends, or using pneumatic actuation for shape locking. In this paper, we present a novel design that enables passive, on-demand shape locking. Our design leverages a passive tip mount to apply hook-and-loop fasteners that hold bends without any pneumatic or electrical input. We characterize the robot's kinematics and ability to hold locked bends. We also experimentally evaluate the effect of hook-and-loop fasteners on beam and joint stiffness. Finally, we demonstrate our proof-of-concept prototype in 2D. Our passive shape locking design is a step towards easily reconfigurable robots that are lightweight, low-cost, and low-power. 
    more » « less