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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.
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, andmore »