Jan 28, 2015 | By Will

Ryuma Niiyama from University of Tokyo and his colleagues at MIT have developed a way for the layperson or child to become a rudimentary robotics engineer. Free-form planar soft actuators, or "sticky actuators", are as easy to use as stickers and can turn passive objects into a user-controlled robotics system. All you need to do is stick it onto an appropriate hinge or joint and then be able to pump air in and out. It's that simple!

Fun and simplicity aside, Niiyama et al. published an in-depth scientific paper about their research, stating "The goal of this research is to provide accessible smart actuators with a flexible fabrication method." These pneumatic pouches can be custom-made using A CNC machine holding a heat pencil or a basic 3D printer. Using G-code generated to outline the custom pouches, the rig fused two sheets of thermoplastic about 0.05 mm to 0.10 mm thick. After trimming excess plastic and applying a barbed polyethylene tube fitting, the actuators are good to go.

Images: Niiyama et al. (2015)

The researchers were curious to see how powerful these actuators could really be. To find out, they used a force sensor and linear potentiometer to test the strength of four connected pouches at different pressures. They found that at the highest pressure tested, 20kPa, the actuators realized a force of 10 N which is roughly equivalent to the weight of a 1 kg object at sea level. Impressive!

The video shows someone using a manual syringe-based method of controlling the pouches, but that could get old fast for some people. So Niiyama and his colleagues also developed an Arduino-based playback controller that can be programmed to operate multiple actuators in sequences. The user just has to hit record and when the green light comes on, just tap the pump control buttons as desired. After recording the controller can play back the same actions automatically. In the "Limitations and Future Work" section of the publication, the researchers admit that the capability of the actuators is limited by the current design of the conroller. That is, the controller operates in a binary on/off format, while the actuators are capable of continous control. This means you could achieve less "robotic" movements for your robots with access to a more advanced control system.

The researchers also tacked on two 90-minute user interaction workshops where children and teens got the chance to apply actuators to their own origami creations. The chart below shows that 95% of creations made by the children employed rotation motion, or bending. Niiyama et al. interpreted this to suggest that "children are interested in large straightforward motions rather than more subtle motions such as breathing or beating." Additionally, workshop participants had trouble simulating movements on more complicated origami designs compared to simpler ones like flapping birds.

Niiyama and his team have developed a "robotics" system capable of animating everyday objects that is easy enough even for children to use. The researchers conclude that their customizable and fast fabrication, which utilizes inexpensive materials, could easily be mass-produced. Also the option for the Arduino playback controller could potentially enhance the user's engagement with his or her "robots". They see a future in which "Soft and flexible robotic components can quickly and cheaply expand the capability of passive objects and static environments." Combine this innovative mechanism with your own 3D printed designs and just like that you shall behold a robot that is entirely your own creation!



Source: IEEE Spectrum


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Mitch wrote at 1/28/2015 8:59:29 PM:

A Bit of a reach here. I saw this and my eyes widened! I worked with the team on this project last year. The glue is placed down in 2D by a machine which then is used to glue two pieces of plastic together. If you call it anything it's 2D printing.

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