Squishy motor invention could revolutionise soft robotics

28 Jun 201610 Shares

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Engineers in the US have made quite the breakthrough in robotics, building a soft, squishy motor to provide torque in a remarkably novel way.

Using 3D printing, some cleverly thought-out engineering and silicon rubber 1m-times softer than aluminium, Rutgers University researchers are really on to something.

The result of their work is a motor that can be manipulated in soft robotics, allowing for rotations in wheels, or manipulation of claws, using “remarkably simple” engineering.

Inflating pockets within wheels and winches with managed silicone, the pressure in the cavities forces the rotation in an almost pneumatic way and, by utilising smaller spaces, decent speed can be achieved in wheels.

“The introduction of a wheel and axle assembly in soft robotics should enable vast improvement in the manipulation and mobility of devices,” said Aaron D Mazzeo, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who co-authored the study with Xiangyu Gong.

Former Rutgers graduate student Xiangyu Gong and current assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Aaron Mazzeo co-authored the paper on the ’squishy’ creation - images via Gong and Mazzeo

Former Rutgers graduate student Xiangyu Gong and current assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Aaron Mazzeo co-authored the paper on the ’squishy’ creation – images via Gong and Mazzeo

“We would very much like to continue developing soft motors for future applications, and develop the science to understand the requirements that improve their performance.”

Soft robotics is a field that’s exploding with interest in recent years. A few months back, we looked at why that is, which puts disaster relief front and centre.

The authors hope that future applications of the motor – of which they have a pending patent – could include things like amphibious vehicles that drive along seabeds, or rescue devices that need to navigate particularly complicated terrain.

Mazzeo and co’s innovations include the motor, a special wheel and axle configuration to capitalise on the motor technique, as well as transmission and wheels that use what’s called peristalsis, the process people use to push food to the stomach through the oesophagus.

“We think these robots also would be useful for working around children or animals, and you could envision them being helpful in hospitals,” Mazzeo said.

“There are opportunities also for toys and for creating educational science or engineering kits.”

Cogs image via Shutterstock

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com