skip to main content


This content will become publicly available on February 28, 2025

Title: Elephant Trunk Inspired Multimodal Deformations and Movements of Soft Robotic Arms
Abstract

Elephant trunks are capable of complex, multimodal deformations, allowing them to perform task‐oriented high‐degree‐of‐freedom (DOF) movements pertinent to the field of soft actuators. Despite recent advances, most soft actuators can only achieve one or two deformation modes, limiting their motion range and applications. Inspired by the elephant trunk musculature, a liquid crystal elastomer (LCE)‐based multi‐fiber design strategy is proposed for soft robotic arms in which a discrete number of artificial muscle fibers can be selectively actuated, achieving multimodal deformations and transitions between modes for continuous movements. Through experiments, finite element analysis (FEA), and a theoretical model, the influence of LCE fiber design on the achievable deformations, movements, and reachability of trunk‐inspired robotic arms is studied. Fiber geometry is parametrically investigated for 2‐fiber robotic arms and the tilting and bending of these arms is characterized. A 3‐fiber robotic arm is additionally studied with a simplified fiber arrangement analogous to that of an actual elephant trunk. The remarkably broad range of deformations and the reachability of the arm are discussed, alongside transitions between deformation modes for functional movements. It is anticipated that this design and actuation strategy will serve as a robust method to realize high‐DOF soft actuators for various engineering applications.

 
more » « less
NSF-PAR ID:
10492994
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Advanced Functional Materials
ISSN:
1616-301X
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Soft actuators have been studied and analyzed as a new solution for soft robotic technologies. These types of actuators have many advantages due to their predictable deformations and their ease of control, enabling them to hold and move delicate objects performing complex movements in confined spaces. Soft actuators can be made using different manufacturing processes, but the most common is mold casting. However, this manufacturing process involves several steps, increasing the manufacturing time and hindering changes in the design. This paper presents a novel design of a 3D printed soft pneumatic actuator based on additive manufacturing, achieving design versatility and performance. The produced actuator has seven segments that can be individually controlled. The actuators were made using fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology in one continuous process and without support material. The mechanical performance of the soft actuators was demonstrated, analyzing the deformation in the z-axis based on input pressure. 
    more » « less
  2. Bending permits soft arms to access a workspace that is not colinear with the initial arm axis; the size and shape of this space depends on the characteristics of the soft arm. Soft bending actuators and arms have developed for specific applications, but not characterized for the general relationship between design variables and performance. This paper defines a class of soft bending arms based on its design, considering the arm as a system constructed from many contracting actuators organized into segments. A modular segment design is presented, and seven variants of this design were constructed and tested for bend radius, bend direction, lateral stiffness and contraction. The variants isolate system parameters, in this case, arm radius and number of actuators within a given segment, to quantify how these parameters affect performance. A trade-off was found between lateral stiffness and bend radius, which can be controlled by altering the arm radius or the number of actuators. Bend direction was found to be coupled to both bend radius and arm load. Finally, a three-segment arm following a bio-inspired design is presented to demonstrate how the experimental results apply to soft robot system design. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the research in soft actuators that exhibit complex programmable deformations. Soft electrothermal actuators use electricity as the stimulus to generate heat, and the mismatch between the thermal expansions of the two structural layers causes the actuator to bend. Complex programmable deformations of soft electrothermal actuators are difficult due to the limitations of the conventional fabrication methods. In this article, we report a new approach to fabricate soft electrothermal actuators, in which the resistive heater of the electrothermal actuator is directly printed using electrohydrodynamic (EHD) printing. The direct patterning capabilities of EHD printing allow the free-form design of the heater. By changing the design of the heating pattern on the actuator, different heat distributions can be achieved and utilized to realize complex programmable deformations, including uniform bending, customized bending, folding, and twisting. Finite element analysis (FEA) was used to validate the thermal distribution and deformation for different actuator designs. Lastly, several integrated demonstrations are presented, including complex structures obtained from folding, a two-degree-of-freedom soft robotic arm, and soft walkers. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    The design and engineering of liquid crystal elastomers (LCE) composites for enhanced multifunctionality and responsiveness is highly desired. Here, a hollow LCE (h‐LCE) fiber fabricated via coaxial spinning, enabling the straightforward yet effective creation of functional LCE composites, is reported. Inspired by the fiber‐tubule architecture in skeletal muscles, the hollow fiber features an LCE outer shell for programmable actuation and an inner channel allowing for the integration of a variety of functional media. Thus, the h‐LCE fiber can serve as a versatile platform for multifunctionalities in LCE composites. With this unique design strategy, h‐LCE fibers are fabricated with lengths exceeding 3 meters in the lab with outer and inner diameters as small as 250 mm and 120 µm, respectively. The versatility of these h‐LCE fibers across various applications are further demonstrated, from fast‐response stiffness‐tunable actuators by integrating water flow as triggering media and shape memory polymer (SMP) for enhanced mechanical properties, to electrically driven actuating systems through the incorporation of liquid metal, and actuating light‐guides by combining SMP and PDMS optical fiber. The conception of h‐LCE fiber not only advances the design of multifunctional LCE composites but also paves the way for their application in soft robotics, artificial muscles, and beyond.

     
    more » « less
  5. Soft robotic actuators can be designed to achieve complex and tailored motions while simultaneously leveraging their compliance to interact with complex and often delicate environments. Mechanical metamaterials reveal a route to customizable deformations, force exertion, and mechanical energy efficiency attainable by careful arrangement of local geometric features. Herein, modular soft robotic actuators are developed from soft elastomers and flexible thermoplastic sheets of various unit cell designs. The efforts are focused on center‐symmetric perforated sheets, which are formed into flexible cylindrical skins that surround the soft inflatable actuators. The results demonstrate the influence of perforation geometry on the spatial stiffness of the reinforcement structure and the proposed actuators’ response through several investigations. It is demonstrated that the free‐boundary displacement, maximal force exertion, and mechanical energy efficiency of extensile actuators are dependent on a change of deformation mode in the mesostructure. The spatial stiffness concept is extended to develop soft robotic actuators that can bend, twist, and perform hybrid motions, such as simultaneous bending and twisting. Multisegment soft robotic arms are also developed from the aforementioned actuators. Investigations in this study provide a step toward the development of highly customizable and programmable soft robotic actuators for various applications.

     
    more » « less