Sunday, May 5, 2013

Soft-bodied machines. Future of Actuation?

Squishy Robots.

Pros: Soft, Delicate, and full of possibilities. innovative air pocket design and actuation.

Cons: requires separate controller at the moment. limited force and torque capabilities?

I'm actually rather interested in soft body robots as of late. What's really interesting about these robots is how "gentle" they can be. You don't necessary have to worry about these taking your arm off or even really doing serious damage to the environment when operated. It's a brilliant concept and one that is only recently being realized.

The whole system relies on a series of air "bladders" that when inflated or compressed provide the robot with a form of actuation or movement. Through the use of the bladders an infinite work space could be considered as one is not restrained with the kinematics of rigid structures.

Moreover it currently has many challenges. The main challenge that I see is controlling the system to a point that it is independent from large and bulky pump/computer systems. This problem extends beyond grandiose control down to the lesser matters of position sensing. Perhaps visual cues with computer vision could accommodate this minor obstacle. That could just be a temporary fix though. I suppose if you know the exact way different bladders in the robot member warp it's position, one could move in a prescribed way.

Enough banter, here are a couple examples from around the web of people exploring our new squishy robot friends.

Note that there are a few more people working on this, I just couldn't find them. I sucspect with some more research and a tad bit of ingenuity this could become a useful platform.

Heck I dare say the next motion of this would be to push into a realm of hybrid robots. These would mimic creatures with a soft exterior or set of tentacles yet have a hard set of circuitry and components complementing it. For those moments that you need to squeeze really hard you could incorporate motors in certain arrangements as well.