This squishy robot gets pumped to move

This squishy robot gets pumped to move

When we think of robots, we usually think of chunky gears, mechanical parts, and jerky movements. But a new generation of robots has tried to break this mold.

Since the Czech playwright Karel Čapek first coined the term “robot” in 1920, these machines have evolved in many shapes and sizes. Robots can now be hard, soft, large, microscopic, disembodied, or human-like, with joints controlled by a variety of unconventional motors such as magnetic fields, air, or light.

A new six-legged soft robot from a team of Cornell University engineers has put its own spin on movement, using fluid-powered motors to achieve complex movements. The result: A free-standing bug-like contraption carrying a backpack with a battery-powered Arbotix-M controller and two syringe pumps on top. The syringes pump fluid in and out of the robot’s limbs as it ambles across a surface at a speed of 0.05 body lengths per second. The robot’s design was detailed in an article published in the magazine Advanced intelligent systems last week.

A squishy new robot uses squirts and physics to compete
Cornell University

The robot was developed out of Cornell’s Collective Embodied Intelligence Lab, which is exploring ways robots can think and gather information about the environment using other parts of their bodies outside of a central “brain,” similar to an octopus. In doing so, the robot would rely on its version of reflexes, rather than heavy calculations, to calculate what to do next.

[Related: This magnetic robot arm was inspired by octopus tentacles]

To build the robot, the team created six hollowed out silicone legs. Inside the legs are fluid-filled bellows (imagine the inside of an accordion) and connecting tubes arranged in a closed system. The pipes change the viscosity of the fluid flowing in the system and distort the shape of the legs; The geometry of the bellows structure allows the fluid from the syringe to move in and out in a specific way, adjusting the position and pressure in each leg, allowing them to expand stiffly or deflate to their resting state. By coordinating different, alternating combinations of pressure and position, a cyclical program is created that sets the legs and the robot in motion.

According to a press release, Yoav Matia, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University and author of the study, “developed a fully descriptive model that can predict the possible movements of the actuator and anticipate how different inlet pressures, geometries, and tube and bellows configurations will achieve them—all with a single liquid inlet.”

Because of the flexibility of these rubber joints, the robot can also change its gait or walking style depending on the landscape or type of obstacles it is crossing. The researchers say the technology behind these liquid-based engines and nimble limbs can be applied to a range of other applications, such as: B. 3D printed machines and robotic arms.

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