The research objective of this award is to leverage recent advances in 3D-printing technology and in the robotics communities: open-source tools to enable rapid, on-site design and manufacture of soft, human-friendly robots. These soft robots can be customized to the geometry of a particular task by creating 3D molds from the object geometry where embedded chambers for fluid can be molded into the elastomer. Actuation of the devices can be achieved by pressurizing the chambers, leading to induced strain in certain parts of the elastomeric material. The research will enable 3D simulations of soft robot designs to be performed via a finite element approach that takes into account the complex geometry and non-linear material properties. Deliverables include a catalog of design and fabrication rules for soft robots, guidelines for simulating fluid-structure interaction with finite element modeling, demonstration and validation via hardware, documentation of research results, engineering student education, and the development of an open-source platform for sharing the research with the broader educational and research communities.

If successful, the results of this research will provide an opportunity to create custom soft robots that are inherently low-cost and safe for interacting with humans and fragile objects. This will lead the way for a transition from conventional machines to a new generation of versatile, multifunctional soft systems customized for specification applications where safe interaction with humans and the environment is critical. Example applications include soft robotic braces that can be customized for patients for physical rehabilitation and soft robotic grippers for that can be customized to particular objects on manufacturing assembly lines. For dissemination, an open-source platform will be developed that will consist of 3D CAD models, simulation files, fabrication instructions that can all be adapted for other applications. This information will enable high-school students, undergraduate design teams, and academic and industrial researchers to create their own soft robots.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)
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Irina Dolinskaya
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Harvard University
United States
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