Soft Robotics: Design and Fabrication of Intelligent Material Systems
As advanced as modern machines are, the building blocks have changed little since the Industrial Revolution: structures, motors and gears are typically rigid, bulky and heavy. In contrast, soft robots offer the compliance and low-weight necessary to make them safe for working in close proximity to humans, as well as allowing them to squeeze into tight spaces, handle fragile objects, and be robust in collisions. The combination of elastically deformable substrates with soft actuators and sensors will allow a robot to be folded or compressed and placed into a volume much smaller than its deployed size, making transportation easier. During this talk, I will describe my group’s progress towards soft active materials for actuation, sensing, and stiffness control. I will emphasize our work on flexible, stretchable sensors embedded with liquid metals and manufacturability of conductive composites. Finally, I will show several prototype soft-bodied systems that incorporate these sensors and variable stiffness actuators to achieve distributed intelligence and functionality.