Engineers from the University of Colorado Boulder, Keio University, and the University of Tokyo have developed LiftTiles, a modular shape display that fits inside a room.


LiftTiles can inflate and rise up as a unit through an inflatable actuator. (Image Credit: Ryo Suzuki, YouTube)


The lightweight, compact LiftTiles contain an array of actuators that can inflate and extend up to 1.5m in height before retracting. Inflatable actuation gives a sturdy structure that can support heavy objects, up to 10kg.  All the inflatable actuators are assembled with a plastic tube and constant springs. The tubes extend when inflated and retract with the force of the spring when it deflates. Height control is also maintained by the volume of air inside each actuator.


There are some differences when comparing the team’s actuators with a reel-based one. For instance, the team’s design employs force springs to improve stabilization, simplified fabrication, and stronger retraction force. This allows a larger sized actuator to expand from 15cm to 150cm.


Each unit of LiftTiles has an inflatable plastic tube with two constant force springs. The flat side of the spring is attached to the bottom plate, and the rolled side is attached to the top end of the tube. It also contains a laser-cut base plate with two holes. The first hole is for air supply, and the other is for air release. The Ebowan Plastic Solenoid valve found in the plastic tube is responsible for supplying it with air. Meanwhile, the air release hole contains a T-shaped silicon tap, which can open and close the release valve by using a 3D printed rack and pinion gear installed on a TowerPro SG90 servo motor. The team also mounted a telescopic enclosure made of flexed plastic sheets, which lets the user step or sit on it.


Each modular actuator can also be connected to each other. This is done from the end of the solenoid air intake valve of each actuator connected to a T-shaped plumbing joint.  Adjoining actuators are then pneumatically connected through a silicon tube between the T-shaped joints, which allows an array of actuators to share the air between each other through a shared pressurized line.


In the future, the team hopes to further develop this technology in other applications by adding mobility in each unit to give it an autonomous shape display and by actuating larger objects that can use shape displays.   



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