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  1. Soft robots have shown great potential to enable safe interactions with unknown environments due to their inherent compliance and variable stiffness. However, without knowledge of potential contacts, a soft robot could exhibit rigid behaviors in a goal-reaching task and collide into obstacles. In this paper, we introduce a Sliding Mode Augmented by Reactive Transitioning (SMART) controller to detect the contact events, adjust the robot’s desired trajectory, and reject estimated disturbances in a goal reaching task. We employ a sliding mode controller to track the desired trajectory with a nonlinear disturbance observer (NDOB) to estimate the lumped disturbance, and a switching algorithm to adjust the desired robot trajectories. The proposed controller is validated on a pneumatic-driven fabric soft robot whose dynamics is described by a new extended rigid-arm model to fit the actuator design. A stability analysis of the proposed controller is also presented. Experimental results show that, despite modeling uncertainties, the robot can detect obstacles, adjust the reference trajectories to maintain compliance, and recover to track the original desired path once the obstacle is removed. Without force sensors, the proposed model-based controller can adjust the robot’s stiffness based on the estimated disturbance to achieve goal reaching and compliant interaction withmore »unknown obstacles.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 13, 2023
  2. Recent work in fluid-driven soft robots has demonstrated the potential to achieve high power-to-weight ratios, low fabrication costs, and improved safety, making them well suited for interactive tasks. However, the low speed of pneumatic actuation prevents use of these robots in more dynamic tasks. This paper aims to design, characterize, and model a bistable elastomeric actuator for swift tasks (BEAST). This actuator enables both fast actuation and mechanical compliance, and is designed by integrating silicone and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in a bendy straw structure. The BEAST contains three states - compressed, natural, and stretched states. Two operation modes - compressed and stretched modes, are defined to model the continuous elongation dynamics before and after the quickly switching around the natural state. A set of design rules and a novel fabrication method are presented to develop the BEAST. The actuator characterization shows that the maximum extension ratio, snapping speed, and output force of the BEAST to be 0.58, 1.5m/s, and 48N, respectively. A hybrid linear parameter varying (HLPV) model is developed to describe the pressure-dependent dynamics of the actuator. The actuators are evaluated in an object sorting task where both fast and gentle behaviors are demonstrated.
  3. Low-temperature direct ammonia fuel cells (DAFCs) use carbon-neutral ammonia as a fuel, which has attracted increasing attention recently due to ammonia's low source-to-tank energy cost, easy transport and storage, and wide availability. However, current DAFC technologies are greatly limited by the kinetically sluggish ammonia oxidation reaction (AOR) at the anode. Herein, we report an AOR catalyst, in which ternary PtIrZn nanoparticles with an average size of 2.3 ± 0.2 nm were highly dispersed on a binary composite support comprising cerium oxide (CeO 2 ) and zeolitic imidazolate framework-8 (ZIF-8)-derived carbon (PtIrZn/CeO 2 -ZIF-8) through a sonochemical-assisted synthesis method. The PtIrZn alloy, with the aid of abundant OH ad provided by CeO 2 and uniform particle dispersibility contributed by porous ZIF-8 carbon (surface area: ∼600 m 2 g −1 ), has shown highly efficient catalytic activity for the AOR in alkaline media, superior to that of commercial PtIr/C. The rotating disk electrode (RDE) results indicate a lower onset potential (0.35 vs. 0.43 V), relative to the reversible hydrogen electrode at room temperature, and a decreased activation energy (∼36.7 vs. 50.8 kJ mol −1 ) relative to the PtIr/C catalyst. Notably, the PtIrZn/CeO 2 -ZIF-8 catalyst was assembled with a high-performance hydroxidemore »anion-exchange membrane to fabricate an alkaline DAFC, reaching a peak power density of 91 mW cm −2 . Unlike in aqueous electrolytes, supports play a critical role in improving uniform ionomer distribution and mass transport in the anode. PtIrZn nanoparticles on silicon dioxide (SiO 2 ) integrated with carboxyl-functionalized carbon nanotubes (CNT–COOH) were further studied as the anode in a DAFC. A significantly enhanced peak power density of 314 mW cm −2 was achieved. Density functional theory calculations elucidated that Zn atoms in the PtIr alloy can reduce the theoretical limiting potential of *NH 2 dehydrogenation to *NH by ∼0.1 V, which can be attributed to a Zn-modulated upshift of the Pt–Ir d-band that facilitates the N–H bond breakage.« less