Soft Autonomous Materials—Using Active Elasticity and Embedded Distributed Computation
The impressive agility of living systems seems to stem from modular sensing, actuation and communication capabilities, as well as intelligence embedded in the mechanics in the form of active compliance. As a step towards bridging the gap between man-made machines and their biological counterparts, we developed a class of soft mechanisms that can undergo shape change and locomotion under pneumatic actuation. Sensing, computation, communication and actuation are embedded in the material leading to an amorphous, soft material. Soft mechanisms are harder to control than stiff mechanisms as their kinematics are difficult to model and their degrees of freedom are large. Here we show instances of such mechanisms made from identical cellular elements and demonstrate shape changing, and autonomous, sensor-based locomotion using distributed control. We show that the flexible system is accurately modeled by an equivalent spring-mass model and that shape change of each element is linear with applied pressure. We also derive a distributed feedback control law that lets a belt-shaped robot made of flexible elements locomote and climb up inclinations. These mechanisms and algorithms may provide a basis for creating a new generation of biomimetic soft robots that can negotiate openings and manipulate objects with an unprecedented level of compliance and robustness.
KeywordsDielectric Elastomer Soft Mechanism Expansion Strain Soft Robot Active Elasticity
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