Researchers from Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a soft robot that could lead the way for robotic implementations for space exploration, biomimetics, medical surgery, search and rescue operations, rehabilitation and many more areas of interest.  


The soft robot can be used in a wide range of applications and different fields including space exploration, medical studies and rehabilitation. (Image Credit: Bertoldi Lab / Harvard SEAS)

The robot runs on pressurized air and can be a significant replacement for a series of control systems that only have one input. This decreases the amount, along with weight and complexity of components, allowing them to use less power to run the system.


It was simply not possible to construct more fluidic robots without being able to control each actuator through single input lines, pressure supplies and a complex actuation process. However, after significant amounts of research by the SEAS team, they are able to build more fluid robots in their design, ensuring a smoother control in their actuation. Their research has been published in Soft Robotics.


To simplify the soft robots, researchers utilized the fluid's viscosity, which measures the resistance of a fluid's movement through an object. Which is equivalent to water traveling through a thin straw - it would make it more difficult to move through it due to resistance levels. Researchers led by Katia Bertoldi, the William and Ami Kuan Danoff Professor of Applied Mechanics at SEAS implemented this concept by using tubes in a range of differing sizes to control the flow and speed of air moving throughout the device. One input injects an equivalent amount of air through a tube, while tube sizes area factor in deciding how and where air flows. The team created a system that regulates how a soft robot should be built, how tubes should be chosen and how it should be actuated, so it carries out a specified task, like crawling or walking with one input line. They carried out their demonstrations on a four-legged soft robot. The tubes that were attached to the top of the robot controlled the air flow to each leg at the same time, which allowed the robot to crawl with ease.



Their project offers a new strategy that allows the creation of actuated fluidic soft robots to be simplified based on the usability of viscous flow. This makes progress more ideal than before because it focuses on the creation of soft robots without the use of a tether or input control systems.


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