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
- Breakthrough biogel for soft robots is made of such safe ingredients you can (technically) eat iton June 23, 2020 at 6:24 am
Watching out for the environment is certainly something humans should take seriously. And as Wall-E proved, so should robots. Soft robotics is the new frontier behind the grippers, sensors, and even ...
- The Pop Culture Robots that Influenced Smart Voice Assistantson June 23, 2020 at 12:00 am
Last year, nearly one third of Australian adults owned a smart speaker device allowing them to call on “Alexa” or “Siri”. Now, with more time spent indoors due to COVID-19, smart voice assistants may ...
- From HAL 9000 to Westworld’s Dolores: the pop culture robots that influenced smart voice assistantson June 21, 2020 at 1:06 pm
In our paper published in New Media Society, we trace anxiety about smart assistants to a long history of threatening robot voices and narratives in Hollywood. The warm and solicitous female voices of ...
- Global Soft Robotics Market, Forecast to 2025: A $4.9+ Billion Opportunity Assessment - ResearchAndMarkets.comon June 19, 2020 at 8:09 am
Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2020-2025)" report has been added to ResearchAndMarkets.com's offering. The Global Soft Robotics Market was valued at USD 645.45 million in 2019 and is expected to reach ...
- Soft and ion-conducting hydrogel artificial tongue for astringency perceptionon June 18, 2020 at 7:04 am
Artificial tongues have received increased attention due to their ability to detect the five basic tastes, but until now scientists have been unable to fully enable human tongue-like biomimicry for ...
- Gellyphant: Scientists make a robot elephant made from jellyon June 18, 2020 at 1:21 am
Scientists hope the special gel could be used to make other creatures, and could be used by zookeepers to help give animals medicine disguised as prey or food.
- Podcast: Robots are the new recruits on the pandemic’s front lineson June 17, 2020 at 9:12 am
We give robots some pretty scary and stressful jobs: cleaning up nuclear sites, inspecting pipelines from the inside, exploring the frozen wastes of Mars. The arrival of the coronavirus has ...
- ABB’s Ground-breaking YuMi® Robot has Set New Standards for Collaborative Robotics for Five Yearson June 16, 2020 at 1:41 pm
including lightweight magnesium alloy arms with soft-padding to avoid pinch points, advanced motion control with collision detection, YuMi is designed to be installed in workstations alongside people ...
- Amazon deal gets you a best-selling robot vacuum for just $159on June 15, 2020 at 8:24 am
Robot vacuums with powerful suction and a good feature set typically costs hundreds of dollars, but there’s a great deal today at Amazon. The nation’s top online retailer is offering a ...
- We can make robots from gelatine and other edible ingredientson June 15, 2020 at 8:18 am
Soft, edible and biodegradable robots made from gelatine could be used to deliver drugs to animals or make safer children's toys ...
via Bing News