This National Robotics Initiative (NRI) project will promote the progress of science and advance the national prosperity by developing a foundational approach towards muscle-powered machines that move using biomimetic muscle actuators. Biomimetic muscle actuators, or robot muscles, are actuators that closely mimic the properties of biological muscles in nature. A common set of challenges in actuator selection and design, and modeling and controlling behaviors and properties emerge among different muscle actuators. This award supports identifying and unifying modeling, control, and design strategies that would lower the barrier to muscle-powered robotics research. A significant effort to de-risk robot muscles for designers is the creation a robot muscles toolkit, an accessible software and hardware toolkit for designing muscle-powered machines and for democratizing the development and proliferation of these technologies at a broad scale. Design challenges and competitions will spur the interests and community building for those interested in robot muscles across all ages and experiences, from K-12 to college students and researchers. Local arrangements for outreach in the San Diego and Greater Boston Area communities are planned for stirring interest in robotics for underrepresented minorities.
A novel, data-driven process and structure for parameterizing a common set of biomimetic features that define muscle actuation will be developed in order to anchor modeling, control, and design strategies across a so-called performance and configuration space. These methods can be employed across muscle types and generalize beyond currently available muscle actuators. There is a strategy for muscle selection over multi-dimensional performance criteria that incorporates both empirical data and physics models. Design strategies for muscle configurations for amplification along these performance dimensions, generalizable across muscles, will be investigated. New technologies will be able to be easily added into this framework to perform quantitative comparison studies without replication of gold standard actuators.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.