Thanks to a multi-layered structure, robots can mimic the kinematics of the octopus, generating and removing joints on demand. The researchers behind this development hail from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
“This research helps bridge the gap between soft robotics and traditional rigid robotics,” says Yashraj Narang, graduate student at SEAS. “We believe that this class of technology may foster a new generation of machines and structures that cannot simply be classified as soft or rigid.”
The structure consists of layered flexible material that is wrapped in a plastic envelope and attached to a vacuum source. When the vacuum is applied, the robot becomes rigid, however, removing its influence allows the structure to bend, twist, and move with fluidity. The phenomenon known as laminar jamming creates this observed transition.
“The frictional forces generated by the pressure act like glue,” says Narang. “We can control the stiffness, damping, kinematics, and dynamics of the structure by changing the number of layers, tuning the pressure applied to it, and adjusting the spacing between multiple stacks of layers.”
The team already built devices using the structure as a foundation, including a two-fingered gripper. When the vacuum is applied, it can pinch and grasp small items. On the other hand, withholding the vacuum enables the proof-of-concept to wrap around and hold onto larger objects.
Attaching the structure to a drone allows it to function as shock absorbers. By manipulating its stiffness and dampening, the impact of landing was successfully mitigated.
The research team believes their development could help a variety of applications, including surgical robots, wearable devices, and flexible speakers.
“Our work has explained the phenomenon of laminar jamming and shown how it can provide robots with highly versatile mechanical behavior,” says Robert Howe, Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Engineering. “We believe that this technology will eventually lead to robots that can change state between soft, continuous devices that can safely interact with humans, and rigid, discrete devices that can meet the demands of industrial automation.”
You can see the transitioning robots for yourself in the video below.
Filed Under: Industrial automation, Robotics • robotic grippers • end effectors