AMS Spring 2023

Soft Robotic Sheets Can Make Inanimate Objects Move

Inkbit

Share this Article

Among 3D printing’s many applications, the technology often crosses over into the field of robotics, including soft robotics. Soft robotics is a field that has been changing the way people look at robots, taking them from rigid metal creations to something much more fluid and flexible. Applications include synthetic muscle, prosthetics, search and rescue tools, and more. Now researchers at Yale University are creating soft robots from everyday objects.

The researchers created “skins” by embedding sensors and remotely operated actuators into elastic sheets. When those skins were wrapped around objects, the objects could move, grasp, and even walk. A stuffed horse was able to move its legs when wrapped with the sheets, and a foam tube was able to squirm. The research is described in a paper entitled “OmniSkins: Robotic skins that turn inanimate objects into multifunctional robots.

Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and leader of the research, said that the sheets could be used to create improvised robots that could be used in disaster situations, for example.

“A designer could quickly construct a robot using the robotic skins wrapped around whatever deformable materials they have access to and stick a camera on it, and then deploy the robot for exploration of small or dangerous spaces,” she said. “Robotic skins can be applied to, removed from, and transferred between different objects, and used in combination to create many different configurations to perform many different tasks.”

Kramer-Bottiglio and her colleagues plan to use 3D printing to build additional components for testing the robotic sheets, as well as creating clay structures that can morph into different shapes.

“I’m really excited to see what other people will do with robotic skins,” Kramer-Bottiglio said. “The possibilities are endless.”

The field of soft robotics encompasses a wide variety of production techniques, although 3D printing has been one of the most common methods of fabricating them. Soft robotics has the potential to eliminate many components from traditional robots, doing away with circuits and other clunky parts in favor of actuation by light or chemical reaction. With this new way of looking at robots, they can be made and activated more easily, and used in situations that involve small or unknown spaces.

“This is a very exciting study that demonstrates the versatility and adaptability of soft robotics,” said Conor Walsh, an Associate Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. “The idea that we can have a soft and flexible sheet, wrap it around any surface, have it learn what it is attached to and then move it in some desired way has lot of potential.”

Soft robots can be made out any number of flexible materials, but the researchers’ idea is novel in that it can transform ordinary objects into robots just by wrapping them in fabric. As Kramer-Bottiglio pointed out, this means that in an emergency situation, any flexible item that happened to be at hand could be quickly turned into a search and rescue bot – or, in a less urgent situation, kids could turn their favorite stuffed animals into companions that could move around the house. Whether that’s fun or creepy is a matter of opinion, but it’s hard to argue against this new method of robot creation as being potentially very useful in the future.

Authors of the paper include Joran W. Booth, Dylan Shah, Jennifer C. Case, Edward L. White, Michelle C. Yuen, Olivier C. Choiniere and Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

 

Share this Article


Recent News

3D Printing News Unpeeled: Impossible Objects, Soft Tissue Bitmaps and Aerorise

Rocket Lab Launches First Vehicle from U.S. Soil



Categories

3D Design

3D Printed Art

3D Printed Food

3D Printed Guns


You May Also Like

Entire Nanosatellite 3D Printed within Single nScrypt 3D Printer

Under a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II research grant with the Space Force, Sciperio relied on 3D printers from its sister company nScrypt to make small six unit...

NASA’s Breakthrough 2022: Artemis, 3D Printed Spacesuits and New Metal Alloys

With a dedicated multitude of followers worldwide and hundreds of thousands of people flocking to the Space Coast to see Artemis I launch on a 26-day mission around the Moon,...

Featured

Startup Accelerator: The 10 Most Active VCs in 3D Printing

The startup scene in 3D printing may be small compared to tech at large, but, as additive manufacturing (AM) increases in quality and importance, the number of firms to enter...

NASA Awards TROPICS CubeSat Mission to Rocket Lab

Spacecraft manufacturer Rocket Lab (Nasdaq: RKLB) has more big plans for the company as it expands its US presence. Known for its almost entirely 3D printed engines, the rocket company...