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  1. Abstract

    Controlling the deformation of a soft body has potential applications in fields requiring precise control over the shape of the body. Areas such as medical robotics can use the shape control of soft robots to repair aneurysms in humans, deliver medicines within the body, among other applications. However, given known external loading, it is usually not possible to deform a soft body into arbitrary shapes if it is fabricated using only a single material. In this work, we propose a new physics-based method for the computational design of soft hyperelastic bodies to address this problem. The method takes as input an undeformed shape of a body, a specified external load, and a user desired final shape. It then solves an inverse problem in design using nonlinear optimization subject to physics constraints. The nonlinear program is solved using a gradient-based interior-point method. Analytical gradients are computed for efficiency. The method outputs fields of material properties which can be used to fabricate a soft body. A body fabricated to match this material field is expected to deform into a user-desired shape, given the same external loading input. Two regularizers are used to ascribea prioricharacteristics of smoothness and contrast, respectively, to the spatial distribution of material fields. The performance of the method is tested on three example cases in silico.

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  2. Abstract

    This paper describes the design, development, and prototype testing of a device that can relieve contact pressure to potentially prevent pressure ulcers in bedridden patients by utilizing pneumatically actuated Fiber-Reinforced Elastomeric Enclosures (FREEs) [1,2].

    Bedsores, or pressure ulcers, develop in bedridden patients due to constant contact pressure between a patient’s skin and an external (bed) surface. It is estimated that over 2.5 million patients [8] suffer from pressure ulcer developments annually in the United States. High pressure areas of the body include the sacrum and heel, with 36% of pressure ulcers occurring at the sacrum and 30% occurring at the heel. All other body areas each account for only 6% of pressure ulcer occurrence [6]. They are a major concern for low-mobility, patients who are bedridden for an extended periods and are associated with a 5x increase in patient mortality [3]. In addition, pressure ulcers place a significant cost burden on patients. Development of Stage 4 pressure ulcers and associated comorbidities can cost on average $127,000 to the patient [4]. This high cost is mainly due to attending caregiver’s time.

    The most common solution for preventing the development of pressure ulcers in bed ridden hospital patients is for the attending nurses to reposition the patients every 2 hours so that the affected areas are relieved of any contact pressure. Repositioning patients is time consuming and strenuous for health care providers. General purpose “dynamic” pressure relief mattresses have shown to be somewhat effective in reducing the development of pressure ulcers. However, they do not effectively target high pressure areas and still necessitate frequent repositioning.

    FREEs can be designed to generate a variety of shapes and motions once actuated (pressurized) and serve as building blocks for soft robotic applications. When FREEs, arranged in parallel, are embedded in a material with compatible elastic properties they propagate their deformed shape throughout the surface. These compliant sheets of FREEs are capable of sustaining loads while relieving pressure on high pressure areas of the body. The prototype for the device presented in this paper was designed for relieving pressure on a patient’s heel area. Preliminary test results demonstrate that the prototype device is effective at lifting a patient’s ankle, for patients weighing up to 250lbs, thus relieving contact pressure. The research also demonstrates the viability of developing modular pressure-relieving pads embedded with more advanced FREEs than described in this paper that can be tailored to relieve contact pressure on other affected areas such as the sacrum.

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  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 23, 2025
  4. Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2024
  5. Many natural organisms, such as fungal hyphae and plant roots, grow at their tips, enabling the generation of complex bodies composed of natural materials as well as dexterous movement and exploration. Tip growth presents an exemplary process by which materials synthesis and actuation are coupled, providing a blueprint for how growth could be realized in a synthetic system. Herein, we identify three underlying principles essential to tip-based growth of biological organisms: a fluid pressure driving force, localized polymerization for generating structure, and fluid-mediated transport of constituent materials. In this work, these evolved features inspire a synthetic materials growth process called extrusion by self-lubricated interface photopolymerization (E-SLIP), which can continuously fabricate solid profiled polymer parts with tunable mechanical properties from liquid precursors. To demonstrate the utility of E-SLIP, we create a tip-growing soft robot, outline its fundamental governing principles, and highlight its capabilities for growth at speeds up to 12 cm/min and lengths up to 1.5 m. This growing soft robot is capable of executing a range of tasks, including exploration, burrowing, and traversing tortuous paths, which highlight the potential for synthetic growth as a platform for on-demand manufacturing of infrastructure, exploration, and sensing in a variety of environments. 
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