Soft Robotics for Chemists

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by Lauren Hartle


The paper introduces the concept of soft robotics to an audience of chemists, discussing promising applications of this technology as well as describing a particular set of prototypes of "soft robots" fabricated by the Whitesides group.

According to Whitesides, et al:

"The robotics community defines "soft robots" as: 1) machines made of soft—often elastomeric—materials, or 2) machines composed of multiple hard-robotic actuators that operate in concert, and demonstrate soft-robot-like properties..."

The researchers used a series of air channels and chambers that acquire curvature when filled with air. Three methods of producing curvature using air pressure were demonstrated, and "starfish" grippers were fabricated and used to pick up various objects, including an egg and an anesthetized mouse. Applications of the "grippers" include manipulation of delicate) (where the highly compliant gripper surface is appropriate) and irregularly-shaped objects (where the ability of the grippers to bend to accommodate different shapes is crucial)

Main Results and Figures

The devices consist of a series of connected air chambers that can be inflated by an inserted tube. Curvature in these "strips" is achieved when one side of a chamber buckles and stretches more than the opposing side. In the top device, this is accomplished with chambers with thin (and hence less stiff) and thick walls opposite each other. In the lower device, this is accomplished with a composite device, made with highly compliant and PDMS