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Navigation and motion control of a robot to a destination are tasks that have historically been performed with the assumption that contact with the environment is harmful. This makes sense for rigid-bodied robots, where obstacle collisions are fundamentally dangerous. However, because many soft robots have bodies that are low-inertia and compliant, obstacle contact is inherently safe. As a result, constraining paths of the robot to not interact with the environment is not necessary and may be limiting. In this article, we mathematically formalize interactions of a soft growing robot with a planar environment in an empirical kinematic model. Using this interaction model, we develop a method to plan paths for the robot to a destination. Rather than avoiding contact with the environment, the planner exploits obstacle contact when beneficial for navigation. We find that a planner that takes into account and capitalizes on environmental contact produces paths that are more robust to uncertainty than a planner that avoids all obstacle contact.
We describe a new series pneumatic artificial muscle (sPAM) and its application as an actuator for a soft continuum robot. The robot consists of three sPAMs arranged radially around a tubular pneumatic backbone. Analogous to tendons, the sPAMs exert a tension force on the robot’s pneu- matic backbone, causing bending that is approximately constant curvature. Unlike a traditional tendon driven continuum robot, the robot is entirely soft and contains no hard components, making it safer for human interaction. Models of both the sPAM and soft continuum robot kinematics are presented and experimentally verified. We found a mean position accuracy of 5.5 cm for predicting the end-effector position of a 42 cm long robot with the kinematic model. Finally, closed-loop control is demonstrated using an eye-in-hand visual servo control law which provides a simple interface for operation by a human. The soft continuum robot with closed-loop control was found to have a step-response rise time and settling time of less than two seconds.