Tethering pneumatic soft robots with multiple degrees of freedom is bulky and unpractical. Our work just published in Advanced Materials describes a new approach to embed hardware intelligence in soft robots where multiple actuators are attached to the same pressure supply, and their actuation sequence is programmed by the interaction between nonlinear actuators and passive ﬂow restrictions.
Inflatable soft robots are much more than soft actuators for gripping delicate objects. They are rich dynamic structures capable of memory and computations all on their own. Carefully designed soft robotic systems therefore do not require any electronic control at all to perform complex functions. Instead, their geometry and materials automatically react to stimuli from the user or from the environment in a meaningful way. This concept is called embodied intelligence and promises extremely cheap, robust or small soft robots capable of autonomously executing tasks in complex environments. However, as of yet it is unclear how to design soft robots such that they accomplish a certain function automatically. To answer this need, we are developing a python library called FONS (Fluidic Object-oriented Network Simulator).
Both PhD projects will be part of the ERC starting grant of prof. Benjamin Gorissen, on building interactive fluidic state machines for soft robotics, called project ILUMIS. Both will be transforming the field of soft robotics by harnessing nonlinearities in a fluidic network, one focusing on the interconnections between, the other on the fluid inside.
About ILUMIS: Actuation, energy storage, sensing, and logic are four functionalities of both natural and artificial organisms, giving them the ability to thrive in their environment. As demonstrated in nature by the common octopus, the distribution of these four functionalities throughout the body creates a blueprint for autonomous and intelligent behavior. This concept of ‘functional embodiment’ is currently non-existing in soft robotics. ILUMIS will create soft robots with embodied functionality by transitioning from a conventional robotic architecture to a fluidic network architecture. Further, by incorporating nonlinearities in all the network elements, the global system acts as a state machine, meaning that the output not only depends on the input, but also on its internal state. How to navigate this state space will be encoded within the nonlinearities, creating embodied intelligence. ILUMIS will overcome the main challenges of inverse design, where a desired behavior requires the optimization of a network of nonlinear structures. Thereby ILUMIS will create a new blueprint for soft robotic design with embodied functionality that closes the gap with nature’s soft organisms.
Interested? Please use the links below for more information and to apply!
Bringing together Artificial Cilia and Model-Based Control has captured the interest of the Soft Robotics community! Congratulations to Edoardo, Benjamin and Dominiek alongside with Francesco Stella and Cosimo Della Santina from TU Delft for winning the Best Communication Award at the 4th edition of the IEEE International Conference on Soft Robotics (RoboSoft 2021) with the paper “Model-Based Control Can Improve the Performance of Artificial Cilia” . This paper is the result of a collaboration between our Soft Robotics Group at KU Leuven and the group of Cosimo Della Santina at TU Delft / DLR.
Last semester, the students of the second bachelor in engineering at the KU Leuven worked for three months on their problem solving and design skills with a course project. Seven teams took on the challenge to design and create a prototype for an untethered hand prosthesis featuring soft robotic actuators. The demoday in December at the department of Mechanical Engineering saw the presentation of seven unique designs capable of shaking hands, grasping cans, handling eggs or even playing rock-paper-scissors! Thumbs up for all the teams!