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#SoftRobotics for Hard Problems

Posted on March 25th, 2015

#ACM New York City

03/25/2015 @NYResistor, 87 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Matt Borgatti @Super-Releaser showed how to create a soft robotic “animal” made of silicone. He first spoke about how soft robots can fill an important niche where robots assist humans in medical situations, but without the dangers of hard robots hurting the person. Soft robots can be made of fabric or muscle wire (but see also Empire Robotics), but most commonly are made of silicone. Internal cavities are filled with pressurized air to change their shape.

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The remainder of the presentation was a step-by-step demonstration of how to create the body of a robot. The general steps are

  1. Use a CAD program such as Solidworks to design the robot and the moulds to shape the silicone
  2. Create the moulds using a 3-d printer
  3. Cast a wax image of the internal air space within the robot
  4. Thoroughly mix the two silicone components
  5. Use a vacuum pump to remove bubbles in the mixture
  6. Place the wax image within the main mould and cast the silicone body
  7. Attach the body to a nozzle and air supply

Matt created a robot and had members of the audience participate in some steps including filling moulds and mixing the silicone.

Matt also spoke about the ongoing challenges to create the next generation of robots. These include increasing the force that the robot generates: currently most are filled with 2 to 3 atmospheres of pressure which generates 1 pound of force. He noted that design changes, such as adding spines to redirect the force, can increase the available force. He also noted how improved simulation software could speed development by giving a better understanding of how different internal air shapes affect the robot’s function.

For another perspective on soft robotics, please see my previous post on the topic.

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