This EArly-concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) project explores the use of combustion to power soft robots. Chemical fuels use much less mass and volume compared to batteries with the same energy, and combustion can be used to generate large forces. However, combustion-based systems are at a much lower state of maturity than electromechanical solutions. This high-risk project will contribute to three key elements for the realization of soft robots powered by rapid chemical reactions: 1) a model for the robot dynamics, 2) a design framework for the actuators, and 3) a theory of control synthesis for obtaining desired motions. This project will advance the national welfare by enabling the creation of low-cost soft robots for applications such as search and rescue and environmental monitoring.

The creation of fast, powerful and autonomous soft robots, capable of performing complex and precise tasks, requires the invention of new actuation and control methods. In order to achieve this vision, this project will introduce a systems-and-control-based methodology for the development of controllable modular robots composed of autonomous pulsed-combustion-powered soft modules, capable of exerting large periodic forces at high speeds. This objective will be achieved by introducing new approaches for the control of pulsed explosions for actuation, the use and advancement of modern and optimal techniques for the control of pulsed-combustion driven soft actuators, and the development of new real-time methods for the control of modular soft robots.

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.

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University of Southern California
Los Angeles
United States
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