Normally robots are expected to be rigid, fast and efficient. But these three features can be mutually exclusive for some activities.
Researchers, Reconfigurable Robotics Laboratory of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, bet for a design very different from that one so typical and have developed soft robots with very interesting services.
This type of robots, powered by muscle-like actuators is designed for use on the human body, to help people to move. They are made of elastomers, including rubber and silicon, so they are inherently safe. They are controlled by changing the air pressure in “soft balloons” specially designed, which also serve as the body of the robot.
The team of Jamie Paik and Gunjan Agarwal has officially unveiled a predictive model that can be used to carefully control the mechanical behavior of the various modules of robots.
Among the potential applications of such robots is rehabilitation of patients, home care, biomimetic systems and manipulation of very fragile objects.
The type of robot designed by the team of Paik and Agarwal focuses primarily on safety. It is difficult that a person can do damage if you use an exoskeleton made of soft materials, for example, as pointed out by Paik.
She and her colleagues conducted numerous simulations and developed a model to predict how the actuators are deformed depending on its shape, thickness and materials of which they are made.
There are different ways to get good results in this regard. One of the most economical is to cover an actuator with a housing made of heavy paper made through origami. In the tests it was verified as well as it is feasible to use different materials.