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  1. Abstract

    Conventional strain gauges are not designed for accurate measurement over the large range of deformations possible in compliant textiles. The thin, lightweight, and flexible nature of textiles also makes it challenging to attach strain gauges in a way that does not affect the mechanical properties. In this manuscript, soft, highly extensible fibers that propagate light (i.e., stretchable lightguides) are stitched as a strain gauge to map the deformation of a nylon parachute textile under tension. When under load, these fiber optic strain gauges propagate less light, and this strain‐induced light modulation is used to accurately (absolute error≈2.93%; Std. Dev.: 3.02%) measure strain in the <30% range before these textiles fail. This system has directionality; strain in parallel to the sensor results in little light attenuation while perpendicular loading shows high sensitivity (Gauge factor≈24.8 and Gauge factor||≈0.05 at the first 1% strain). Structural and optical simulations are coupled to demonstrate that load transfer on the fiber optic by the stitchwork is the dominating cause of signal modulation. To further validate the hypotheses, digital image correlation was used under dynamic loading conditions to show that these sensors do not significantly affect the mechanical properties.

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  2. Abstract

    Since the modern concepts for virtual and augmented reality are first introduced in the 1960's, the field has strived to develop technologies for immersive user experience in a fully or partially virtual environment. Despite the great progress in visual and auditory technologies, haptics has seen much slower technological advances. The challenge is because skin has densely packed mechanoreceptors distributed over a very large area with complex topography; devising an apparatus as targeted as an audio speaker or television for the localized sensory input of an ear canal or iris is more difficult. Furthermore, the soft and sensitive nature of the skin makes it difficult to apply solid state electronic solutions that can address large areas without causing discomfort. The maturing field of soft robotics offers potential solutions toward this challenge. In this article, the definition and history of virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is first reviewed. Then an overview of haptic output and input technologies is presented, opportunities for soft robotics are identified, and mechanisms of intrinsically soft actuators and sensors are introduced. Finally, soft haptic output and input devices are reviewed with categorization by device forms, and examples of soft haptic devices in VR/AR environments are presented.

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  3. Abstract

    The impressive locomotion and manipulation capabilities of spiders have led to a host of bioinspired robotic designs aiming to reproduce their functionalities; however, current actuation mechanisms are deficient in either speed, force output, displacement, or efficiency. Here—using inspiration from the hydraulic mechanism used in spider legs—soft‐actuated joints are developed that use electrostatic forces to locally pressurize a hydraulic fluid, and cause flexion of a segmented structure. The result is a lightweight, low‐profile articulating mechanism capable of fast operation, high forces, and large displacement; these devices are termed spider‐inspired electrohydraulic soft‐actuated (SES) joints. SES joints with rotation angles up to 70°, blocked torques up to 70 mN m, and specific torques up to 21 N m kg−1are demonstrated. SES joints demonstrate high speed operation, with measured roll‐off frequencies up to 24 Hz and specific power as high as 230 W kg−1—similar to human muscle. The versatility of these devices is illustrated by combining SES joints to create a bidirectional joint, an artificial limb with independently addressable joints, and a compliant gripper. The lightweight, low‐profile design, and high performance of these devices, makes them well‐suited toward the development of articulating robotic systems that can rapidly maneuver.

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  4. Abstract

    Future robots and intelligent systems will autonomously navigate in unstructured environments and closely collaborate with humans; integrated with our bodies and minds, they will allow us to surpass our physical limitations. Traditional robots are mostly built from rigid, metallic components and electromagnetic motors, which make them heavy, expensive, unsafe near people, and ill‐suited for unpredictable environments. By contrast, biological organisms make extensive use of soft materials and radically outperform robots in terms of dexterity, agility, and adaptability. Particularly, natural muscle—a masterpiece of evolution—has long inspired researchers to create “artificial muscles” in an attempt to replicate its versatility, seamless integration with sensing, and ability to self‐heal. To date, natural muscle remains unmatched in all‐round performance, but rapid advancements in soft robotics have brought viable alternatives closer than ever. Herein, the recent development of hydraulically amplified self‐healing electrostatic (HASEL) actuators, a new class of high‐performance, self‐sensing artificial muscles that couple electrostatic and hydraulic forces to achieve diverse modes of actuation, is discussed; current designs match or exceed natural muscle in many metrics. Research on materials, designs, fabrication, modeling, and control systems for HASEL actuators is detailed. In each area, research opportunities are identified, which together lays out a roadmap for actuators with drastically improved performance. With their unique versatility and wide potential for further improvement, HASEL actuators are poised to play an important role in a paradigm shift that fundamentally challenges the current limitations of robotic hardware toward future intelligent systems that replicate the vast capabilities of biological organisms.

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  5. Abstract

    A comprehensive material system is introduced for the additive manufacturing of electrohydraulic (HASEL) tentacle actuators. This material system consists of a photo‐curable, elastomeric silicone‐urethane with relatively strong dielectric properties (εr ≈ 8.8 at 1 kHz) in combination with ionically‐conductive hydrogel and silver paint electrodes that displace a vegetable‐based liquid dielectric under the application of an electric field. The electronic properties of the silicone material as well as the mechanical properties of the constitutive silicone and hydrogel materials are investigated. The hydraulic pressure exerted on the dielectric working fluid in these capacitive actuators is measured in order to characterize their quasi‐static behavior. Various design features enabled by 3D printing influence this behavior—decreasing the voltage at which actuation begins or increasing the force density in the system. Using a capacitance change of >35% across the actuators while powered, a demonstration of self‐sensing inherent to HASELs is shown. Antagonistic pairs of the 3D printed actuators are shown to exert a blocked force of over 400 mN. An electrohydraulic tentacle actuator is then fabricated to demonstrate the use of this material and actuation system in a synthetic hydrostat. This tentacle actuator is shown to achieve motion in a multi‐dimensional space.

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  6. We use magnetohydrodynamic levitation as a means to create a soft, elastomeric, solenoid-driven pump (ESP). We present a theoretical framework and fabrication of a pump designed to address the unique challenges of soft robotics, maintaining pumping performance under deformation. Using a permanent magnet as a piston and ferrofluid as a liquid seal, we model and construct a deformable displacement pump. The magnet is driven back and forth along the length of a flexible core tube by a series of solenoids made of thin conductive wire. The magnet piston is kept concentric within the tube by Maxwell stresses within the ferrofluid and magnetohydrodynamic levitation, as viscous lift pressure is created due to its forward velocity. The centering of the magnet reduces shear stresses during pumping and improves efficiency. We provide a predictive model and capture the transient nonlinear dynamics of the magnet during operation, leading to a parametric performance curve characterizing the ESP, enabling goal-driven design. In our experimental validation, we report a shut-off pressure of 2 to 8 kPa and run-out flow rate of 50 to 320 mL⋅min −1 , while subject to deformation of its own length scale, drawing a total of 0.17 W. This performance leads to the highest reported duty point (i.e., pressure and flow rate provided under load) for a pump that operates under deformation of its own length scale. We then integrate the pump into an elastomeric chassis and squeeze it through a tortuous pathway while providing continuous fluid pressure and flow rate; the vehicle then emerges at the other end and propels itself swimming. 
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  7. An optical, elastomeric matrix encodes spatiotemporal haptic stimuli, such as temperature, deformation, and damage, into light. 
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  8. Soft robots require a complimentary control architecture to support their inherent compliance and versatility. This work presents a framework to control soft-robotic systems systematically and effectively. The data-driven model-based approach developed here makes use of Dynamic Mode Decomposition with control (DMDc) and standard controller synthesis techniques. These methods are implemented on a robotic arm driven by an antagonist pair of Hydraulically Amplified Self-Healing Electrostatic (HASEL) actuators. The results demonstrate excellent tracking performance and disturbance rejection, achieving a steady state error under 0.25% in response to step inputs and maintaining a reference orientation within 0.5 degrees during loading and unloading. The procedure presented in this work can be extended to develop effective and robust controllers for other soft-actuated systems without knowledge of their dynamics a priori. 
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  9. null (Ed.)