Scientists at EPFL have developed a tiny pump that could play a big role in the development of autonomous soft robots, lightweight exoskeletons and smart clothing. Flexible, silent and weighing only one gram, it is poised to replace the rigid, noisy and bulky pumps currently used.
The scientists’ work has just been published in Nature.
Soft robots have a distinct advantage over their rigid forebears: they can adapt to complex environments, handle fragile objects and interact safely with humans. Made from silicone, rubber or other stretchable polymers, they are ideal for use in rehabilitation exoskeletons and robotic clothing. Soft bio-inspired robots could one day be deployed to explore remote or dangerous environments.
Most soft robots are actuated by rigid, noisy pumps that push fluids into the machines’ moving parts. Because they are connected to these bulky pumps by tubes, these robots have limited autonomy and are cumbersome to wear at best.
Cutting soft robots’ tether
Researchers in EPFL’s Soft Transducers Laboratory (LMTS) and Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIS), in collaboration with researchers at the Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo, Japan, have developed the first entirely soft pump – even the electrodes are flexible. Weighing just one gram, the pump is completely silent and consumes very little power, which it gets from a 2 cm by 2 cm circuit that includes a rechargeable battery. “If we want to actuate larger robots, we connect several pumps together,” says Herbert Shea, the director of the LMTS at the School of Engineering.
This innovative pump could rid soft robots of their tethers. “We consider this a paradigm shift in the field of soft robotics,” adds Shea. The researchers have just published an article on their work in Nature.
Soft pumps can also be used to circulate liquids in thin flexible tubes embedded in smart clothing, leading to garments that can actively cool or heat different regions of the body. That would meet the needs of surgeons, athletes and pilots, for example.
How does it work?
The soft and stretchable pump is based on the physical mechanism used today to circulate the cooling liquid in systems like supercomputers. The pump has a tube-shaped channel, 1 mm in diameter, inside of which rows of electrodes are printed. The pump is filled with a dielectric liquid. When a voltage is applied, electrons jump from the electrodes to the liquid, giving some of the molecules an electrical charge. These molecules are subsequently attracted to other electrodes, pulling along the rest of the fluid through the tube with them. “We can speed up the flow by adjusting the electric field, yet it remains completely silent,” says Vito Cacucciolo, a post-doc at the LMTS and the lead author of the study.
Developing artificial muscles in Japan
The researchers have successfully implanted their pump in a type of robotic finger widely used in soft robotics labs. They are now collaborating with Koichi Suzumori’s laboratory in Japan, which is developing fluid-driven artificial muscles and flexible exoskeletons.
Learn and see more: A miniature stretchable pump for the next generation of soft robots
The Latest on: Soft robots
via Google News
The Latest on: Soft robots
- Watch: Credit-card sized pumps to power artificial robot muscleson February 22, 2021 at 9:05 pm
A team of researchers from the University of Bristol in the U.K. has created soft, credit-card sized pumps for powering artificial robotic muscles, paving the way for lightweight robotic clothing and ...
- Soft gel could power robot muscles that grow stronger with a workouton February 22, 2021 at 8:07 am
Our muscles get stronger when put under stress and now robot ones could do the same, thanks to a soft gel that becomes harder when exposed to vibration ...
- UC San Diego's electronics-free soft robot only needs pressurized air to moveon February 19, 2021 at 3:52 am
Engineers from the University of California San Diego have developed a four-legged soft robot that doesn't need electronic components to work.
- Thin, flexible pump could make soft robots even softeron February 18, 2021 at 9:57 am
Soft-bodied robots move via pneumatic "muscles" that are selectively inflated or deflated. And while the muscles themselves may be soft and squishy, they're usually hooked up to hard, unwieldy pumps.
- Air-powered robot uses no electronicson February 18, 2021 at 6:08 am
University of California San Diego engineers have created a soft quadruped robot that doesn’t require any electronics to work. The robot only needs a constant source of pressurized air to ...
- This soft robot doesn’t need any electronicson February 18, 2021 at 3:28 am
Engineers at the University of California San Diego have created a four-legged soft robot that doesn’t need any electronics to work. The robot only needs a constant source of pressurized air for all ...
- This robot doesn't need any electronics (w/video)on February 18, 2021 at 2:40 am
Engineers have created a four-legged soft robot that only needs a constant source of pressurized air for all its functions, including its controls and locomotion systems.
- Air-powered robot needs no electronics to walk like a turtleon February 17, 2021 at 8:29 pm
Soft robots are gaining a lot of attention in research circles, largely due to the safety benefits for humans who might need to work in their vicinity, and from an engineering lab at the University of ...
- Former iRobot® Leadership Team Back Together to Accelerate Soft Robotics Growthon February 17, 2021 at 9:50 am
Jeff has been on the board of directors at Soft Robotics since 2017 and was named Executive Chairman in July 2020 before accepting this new role as Chief Executive Officer. Since stepping in as ...
- Robots sense human touch using camera and shadowson February 17, 2021 at 4:45 am
Soft robots may not be in touch with human feelings, but they are getting better at feeling human touch. Cornell University researchers have created a low-cost method for soft, deformable robots ...
via Bing News