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Building a future where robots work alongside humans relies heavily on soft robotics. Typically this means there will be an air compressor or a hydraulic system nearby, taking up precious space. But it doesn’t have to.

Engineers at the UC-San Diego Jacobs School have created a soft robotics system that uses electricity to control flexible actuators, much like our brains move our muscles. It works like this: sheets of heat-sensitive liquid crystal elastomer are sandwiched between two layers of standard elastomer. These layers are rolled into cylinders that can twist and bend in different directions depending on which of its six element(s) get electricity. Light up all six, and the tube contracts, forming the foundation for a good gripper. The team also built a tiny walker, pictured above.

The project is still in its infancy, so the actuators are slow to bend and even slower to return to their original shape, but it’s still a great start. Imagine all the soft robotic projects that can get off the ground without being shackled by the bulk and weight of an air compressor or fluid handling system. Watch it do various sped-up things after the break, like claw-machine gripping a bottle of chocolate rocks.

Speaking of delicious candy, edible soft robotics is totally a thing.

Via Arduino blog

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have come up with a way to build soft robots that are compact, portable and multifunctional without the requirement for compressed air. 

Instead, they’re using a system of tubular actuators made out of heat-sensitive liquid crystal elastomer sheets. Heating elements are placed between two layers of elastomer, which is then rolled up into a cylinder, allowing the tubular digit to bend and contract.

With this novel method, they’ve been able to build a three-jaw gripper, as well as a robot that walks independently with four legs under Arduino control. While the grippers are slow at this point, taking 30 seconds to bend and minutes to return to their original position, the eventual goal is to have them react at the speed of human muscles.

[Amitabh] was frustrated by the lack of options for controlling air pressure in soft robotics. The most promising initiative, Pneuduino, seemed to be this close to a Shenzhen production run, but the creators have gone radio silent. Faced with only expensive alternatives, he decided to take one for Team Hacker and created Programmable Air, a modular system for inflatable and vacuum-based robotics.

The idea is to build the cheapest, most hacker-friendly system he can by evaluating and experimenting with all sorts of off-the-shelf pumps, sensors, and valves. From the looks of it, he’s pretty much got it dialed in. Programmable Air is based around $9 medical-grade booster pumps that are as good at making vacuums as they are at providing pressurization. The main board has two pumps, and it looks like one is set to vacuum and the other to spew air. There’s an Arduino Nano to drive them, and a momentary to control the air flow.

Programmable Air can support up to 12 valves through daughter boards that connect via right-angle header. In the future, [Amitabh] may swap these out for magnetic connections or something else that can withstand repeated use.

Blow past the break to watch Programmable Air do pick and place, control a soft gripper, and inflate a balloon. The balloon’s pressurization behavior has made [Amitabh] reconsider adding a flow meter, but so far he hasn’t found a reasonable cost per unit. Can you recommend a small flow meter that won’t break the bank? Let us know in the comments.

feature-SensoreeGoosebumpPoof3web copy 2Pump up your look using drone motors and pneumatic air muscles to give your wearables a hint of animation with soft robotics.

Read more on MAKE

The post Inflate Your Wearables Using Drone Motors and Pneumatic Air Muscles appeared first on Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers.



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