skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on June 1, 2024

Title: Topology Design and Optimization of Modular Soft Robots Capable of Homogenous and Heterogenous Reconfiguration
Abstract The deformability of soft material robots provides them with the ability to transform between complex shapes and forms. This unique ability facilitates Modular Soft Robots (MSoRos) to assemble and reconfigure into different configurations, e.g., planar and spherical. These topologies display widely different locomotion modes that are desirable to navigate different environments, e.g., crawling or rolling for these cases. This research presents topology design and optimization methodology of MSoRos capable of both homogeneous and heterogeneous reconfiguration in spherical and planar configurations. Homogeneous reconfiguration refers to the scenario when all the modules are identical, while the heterogeneous contains nonidentical modules. The sequential design approach uses a polyhedron (Archimedean or Platonic) as the base solid to define module characteristics. As the design processes involve nonlinear projections, the base polyhedron also dictates the type of reconfiguration—heterogeneous (Archimedean) or homogeneous (Platonic). Thereafter, it applies the polyhedron vertex alignment principle to ensure geometric alignment of the modules during reconfiguration. Planar and spherical distortion metrics are defined to quantify distortions due to reconfiguration. Subsequently, the optimal topology is obtained by minimizing a cost function that is a weighted sum of the two distortion metrics. The result is a set of MSoRos capable of distinct 1D and 2D planar configurations (both heterogeneous and homogeneous) and multiple 3D spherical configurations of varying radii (both heterogeneous and homogeneous). The methodology is validated on a MSoRo system based on the combination of a cuboctahedron (Archimedean solid) and a cube and an octahedron (Platonic solids).  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Computational and Nonlinear Dynamics
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Mechanical cloaks are materials engineered to manipulate the elastic response around objects to make them indistinguishable from their homogeneous surroundings. Typically, methods based on material-parameter transformations are used to design optical, thermal, and electric cloaks. However, they are not applicable in designing mechanical cloaks, since continuum-mechanics equations are not form invariant under general coordinate transformations. As a result, existing design methods for mechanical cloaks have so far been limited to a narrow selection of voids with simple shapes. To address this challenge, we present a systematic, data-driven design approach to create mechanical cloaks composed of aperiodic metamaterials using a large precomputed unit cell database. Our method is flexible to allow the design of cloaks with various boundary conditions, multiple loadings, different shapes and numbers of voids, and different homogeneous surroundings. It enables a concurrent optimization of both topology and properties distribution of the cloak. Compared to conventional fixed-shape solutions, this results in an overall better cloaking performance and offers unparalleled versatility. Experimental measurements on additively manufactured structures further confirm the validity of the proposed approach. Our research illustrates the benefits of data-driven approaches in quickly responding to new design scenarios and resolving the computational challenge associated with multiscale designs of functional structures. It could be generalized to accommodate other applications that require heterogeneous property distribution, such as soft robots and implants design. 
    more » « less
  2. Legged locomotion is a highly promising but under–researched subfield within the field of soft robotics. The compliant limbs of soft-limbed robots offer numerous benefits, including the ability to regulate impacts, tolerate falls, and navigate through tight spaces. These robots have the potential to be used for various applications, such as search and rescue, inspection, surveillance, and more. The state-of-the-art still faces many challenges, including limited degrees of freedom, a lack of diversity in gait trajectories, insufficient limb dexterity, and limited payload capabilities. To address these challenges, we develop a modular soft-limbed robot that can mimic the locomotion of pinnipeds. By using a modular design approach, we aim to create a robot that has improved degrees of freedom, gait trajectory diversity, limb dexterity, and payload capabilities. We derive a complete floating-base kinematic model of the proposed robot and use it to generate and experimentally validate a variety of locomotion gaits. Results show that the proposed robot is capable of replicating these gaits effectively. We compare the locomotion trajectories under different gait parameters against our modeling results to demonstrate the validity of our proposed gait models. 
    more » « less
  3. Kirigami (cutting and/or folding) offers a promising strategy to reconfigure metamaterials. Conventionally, kirigami metamaterials are often composed of passive cut unit cells to be reconfigured under mechanical forces. The constituent stimuli-responsive materials in active kirigami metamaterials instead will enable potential mechanical properties and functionality, arising from the active control of cut unit cells. However, the planar features of hinges in conventional kirigami structures significantly constrain the degrees of freedom (DOFs) in both deformation and actuation of the cut units. To release both constraints, here, we demonstrate a universal design of implementing folds to reconstruct sole-cuts–based metamaterials. We show that the supplemented folds not only enrich the structural reconfiguration beyond sole cuts but also enable more DOFs in actuating the kirigami metasheets into 3 dimensions (3D) in response to environmental temperature. Utilizing the multi-DOF in deformation of unit cells, we demonstrate that planar metasheets with the same cut design can self-fold into programmable 3D kirigami metastructures with distinct mechanical properties. Last, we demonstrate potential applications of programmable kirigami machines and easy-turning soft robots.

    more » « less
  4. This research investigates the design of structurally performant, lightweight architectural elements produced through concrete 3D printing (C3DP). Traditionally, concrete requires dense and sturdy formwork, whose production adds significantly to the total cost and results in massive and heavy parts after demolding. C3DP offers the unique opportunity to both eliminate the need for formwork and to create lighter parts by introducing internal voids and cavities. The advent of additive manufacturing in a broad range of scales, materials, industries, and applications, led to increased interest and intense research into different types of porous structures, their geometry, and structural performance under various boundary conditions. Precise control over the sparse distribution of material allows not only for parts with similar strength at reduced mass but even for modifications of mechanical properties, like turning brittle materials into elastic or shock-absorbent ones. While with powder-based additive manufacturing processes like metal 3D printing, truss-based lattices have become very popular for the light-weighting of parts or to provide tissue growth scaffolds for medical implants, their geometry – a sparse space frame resulting in numerous individual contour islands and accentuated overhangs – cannot as easily be produced by C3DP, which is based on a continuous material extrusion. Alternative types of micro-structures, so-called triply periodic minimal surfaces (TPMS), are better suited for this process as they are, as their name suggests, consisting of one continuous surface dividing space into two separate but interwoven subspaces. TPMS are therefore very popular for the efficient design of heat exchangers. We develop and present a continuous and integrated workflow, in which the architectural elements and their structural requirements are designed through transitioning back and forth between the force and the form diagram using 3D graphic statics [1]. The members and their topology from the abstract graph of the conceptual form diagram are seamlessly connected to the volumetric modeling (VM) framework, responsible for the definition of the part geometry [2]. VM represents form assigned distance functions (SDF) and can easily handle complex topologies and flawless Boolean operations of not only the outer shell geometry but also the internal micro-structural infill patterns (Fig. 1, a). In an iterative feedback loop, the infill can be further optimized to leave the material only along certain internal stress trajectories (force flows). This functional grading controlling the relative density is done based on the FE analysis results. The stress distribution is thereby defined as a three-dimensional field (Fig. 1, b). Its values can factor into the SDF equation and be used to modify the wavelength (periodicity) of the TPMS, the local thickness of the surface shell, the solid to void fraction by shifting the threshold iso-value or even the alignment and orientation of the unit cells (Fig. 1, c). They can be arranged in an orthogonal, polar- or even spherical coordinate system to optimally adapt to structural necessities. The TPMS pattern can also gradually transition from one type into another type along the gradient of a spatial function. 
    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