- Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed soft robots that can switch between different modes of movement without requiring major reconfiguration or additional complexity, inspired by the adaptability of animals.
- The robots have potential applications in rescue missions and environmental monitoring, and the team suggests that heat-activated springs could enable haptics, reconfigurable electronics, and communication in the future.
Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed soft robots that can effortlessly switch between different modes of movement, such as walking, swimming, crawling, and rolling, without requiring any major reconfiguration or additional complexity.
The team created a bistable actuator, a 3D-printed soft rubber mechanism containing shape-memory alloy springs that react to electrical currents by contracting and causing the actuator to bend. This bistable motion alters the robot’s shape, which remains stable until another electrical charge changes it back to its previous configuration.
The researchers were inspired by the natural ability of animals to adapt to their surroundings without requiring any major adjustments. They believe their creation could lay the groundwork for future work on dynamic, reconfigurable soft robotics. One of their robots features four curved actuators attached to the corners of a phone-sized body made of two bistable actuators, allowing it to walk on land and swim in the water by simply changing its shape.
Development of Soft Robots
According to Xiaonan Huang, an assistant professor of robotics at the University of Michigan and a former Ph.D. student of Carmel Majidi, creating separate systems for robots to operate in different environments like land and water adds complexity and weight.
To overcome this, the team at Carnegie Mellon University developed soft robots that use the same system for both environments, making them efficient. The robots can switch between different modes of movement, such as walking, swimming, crawling, and rolling, using a bistable actuator made of 3D-printed soft rubber containing shape-memory alloy springs.
The team created three robots, including one that can crawl and jump and another that can crawl and roll, and demonstrated the durability of the actuators by having a person ride a bicycle over one of them multiple times.
The robots have potential applications in rescue missions and environmental monitoring. The team suggests that heat-activated springs could be used in the future to enable haptics, reconfigurable electronics, and communication. The team’s research was published in the January 2023 Advanced Materials Technologies issue and featured on the journal’s cover.