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  1. Controlling soft continuum robotic arms is challenging due to their hyper-redundancy and dexterity. In this paper we experimentally demonstrate, for the first time, closed-loop control of the configuration space variables of a soft robotic arm, composed of independently controllable segments, using a Cosserat rod model of the robot and the distributed sensing and actuation capabilities of the segments. Our controller solves the inverse dynamic problem by simulating the Cosserat rod model in MATLAB using a computationally efficient numerical solution scheme, and it applies the computed control output to the actual robot in real time. The position and orientation of the tip of each segment are measured in real time, while the remaining unknown variables that are needed to solve the inverse dynamics are estimated simultaneously in the simulation. We implement the controller on a multi-segment silicone robotic arm with pneumatic actuation, using a motion capture system to measure the segments' positions and orientations. The controller is used to reshape the arm into configurations that are achieved through combinations of bending and extension deformations in 3D space. Although the possible deformations are limited for this robot platform, our study demonstrates the potential for implementing the control approach on a wide range of continuum robots in practice. The resulting tracking performance indicates the effectiveness of the controller and the accuracy of the simulated Cosserat rod model. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 13, 2024
  2. Developing low platinum-group-metal (PGM) catalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) for heavy- duty vehicles (HDVs) remains a great challenge due to the highly demanded power density and long-term durability. This work explores the possible synergistic effect between single Mn site-rich carbon (MnSA-NC) and Pt nanoparticles, aiming to improve intrinsic activity and stability of PGM catalysts. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations predicted a strong coupling effect between Pt and MnN4 sites in the carbon support, strengthening their interactions to immobilize Pt nanoparticles during the ORR. The adjacent MnN4 sites weaken oxygen adsorption at Pt to enhance intrinsic activity. Well-dispersed Pt (2.1 nm) and ordered L12-Pt3Co nanoparticles (3.3 nm) were retained on the MnSA-NC support after indispensable high-temperature annealing up to 800 °C, suggesting enhanced thermal stability. Both PGM catalysts were thoroughly studied in membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs), showing compelling performance and durability. The Pt@MnSA-NC catalyst achieved a mass activity (MA) of 0.63 A mgPt−1 at 0.9 ViR‐free and maintained 78% of its initial performance after a 30,000-cycle accelerated stress test (AST). The L12-Pt3Co@MnSA-NC catalyst accomplished a much higher MA of 0.91 A mgPt−1 and a current density of 1.63 A cm−2 at 0.7 V under traditional light-duty vehicle (LDV) H2−air conditions (150 kPaabs and 0.10 mgPt cm−2). Furthermore, the same catalyst in an HDV MEA (250 kPaabs and 0.20 mgPt cm−2) delivered 1.75 A cm−2 at 0.7 V, only losing 18% performance after 90,000 cycles of the AST, demonstrating great potential to meet the DOE targets. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 16, 2024
  3. 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 with unknown obstacles. 
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  4. 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. 
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    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 hydroxide 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. 
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