This squishy robot is pumped to move

This squishy robot is pumped to move

When we think of robots, we usually think of rough gears, mechanical parts, and jerky movements. But a new generation of robots has sought to break that mold.

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

A new six-legged soft robot from a team of Cornell University engineers has set its own spin in motion, using fluid-powered motors to achieve complex movements. The result: a stand-alone, backpack-wearing bug-like contraption 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 moves across a surface at a rate of 0.05 body lengths per second. The robot’s design was described in detail in an article published in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems In the past week.

A new soft robot uses syringes and physics to move
Cornell University

The robot was born out of Cornell’s Collective Embedded Intelligence Laboratory, which is exploring ways robots can think and gather information about the environment with other parts of their bodies outside of a central “brain,” something like an octopus. By doing this, the robot would rely on its version of reflexes, rather than some heavy calculation, to figure out 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 interconnecting tubes arranged in a closed system. The tubes alter the viscosity of the fluid flowing in the system, contorting the shape of the legs; The geometry of the bellows structure allows fluid from the syringe to enter and exit in specific ways that adjust the position and pressure within each leg, causing them to rigidly extend or deflate to their resting state. The coordination of different alternating combinations of pressure and position creates a cyclical program that makes the legs and the robot move.

According to a press release, Yoav Matia, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell and author of the study, “developed a comprehensive descriptive model that could predict potential actuator movements and anticipate how different inlet pressures, geometries, and tube and bellows configurations are achieved. . – all with a single fluid intake.”

Due to the flexibility of these rubber joints, the robot can also change its gait, or style of walking, depending on the landscape or the nature of the obstacles it traverses. The researchers say the technology behind these fluid-based motors and agile limbs can be applied to a variety of other applications, such as 3D-printed machines and robotic arms.

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