Recently, a team of researchers demonstrated a new artificial muscle built entirely from biodegradable components, paving the way for compostable robotic systems. What are the challenges of soft robotics, what have researchers developed, and how could it be useful for future applications?
What are the challenges of soft robotics?
Soft robotics is fasta growing field of engineering that involves the design and development of robotsmade of soft and flexible materials such as elastomers, hydrogels and textiles. Unlike traditional robots made of rigid materials, soft robots can perform a wide range of tasks with greater flexibility, dexterity and adaptability. However, soft robotics also presents a unique set of engineering challenges that must be overcome to create reliable, efficient, and practical soft robot systems.
One of the main challengessoft robotics is the design of soft actuators, which are the components that allow the robot to move and manipulate its environment. Unlike traditional actuators such as motors and servos, soft actuators are typically powered by fluid pressure, electroactive polymers, or shape memory alloys. These materials can be difficult to control and exhibit nonlinear and time-varying behavior, making it difficult to model and predict the behavior of a soft robotic system.
Another challenge of soft robotics is the integration of sensors and feedback systems. Soft robots require accurate and reliable feedback to control their movements and interactions with the environment. However, traditional sensors such as encoders and accelerometers may not be suitable for soft robots due to their rigid and bulky nature. Soft sensors such as strain gauges and pressure sensors must be carefully integrated into the structure of the soft robot without compromising its flexibility and pliability.
Soft robots also face power and energy management challenges. Soft actuators may require high pressures or voltages to operate, which may be difficult to maintain for long periods of time. Additionally, soft robots may need to operate autonomously, which requires efficient power sources that can be integrated into the soft structure. Researchers are exploring new approaches to energy harvesting and storage, such as the use of conductive textiles or triboelectric generators.
Finally, soft roboticsto face challenges with the development of suitable materials and manufacturing processes. Soft robots require materials that are both soft and strong, able to withstand repeated deformation and stretching without tearing or breaking. Additionally, soft robots often require complex and intricate shapes that can be challenging to manufacture using traditional methods. Researchers are exploring new materials, such as shape memory polymers and programmable textiles, and new manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing and soft lithography, to address these challenges.
Scientists demonstrate biodegradable artificial muscles
Researchers Demonstrate Biodegradable Artificial Muscles A team of engineers led by CU Boulder graduate student Ellen Rumley has created a new type of robotic actuator, or artificial muscle, that can propel robotic arms and legs with life-like movements and gradually disintegrate in the soil. several months. This is a significant advance in the robotics industry, as robots result in technological waste and unsustainable disposal practices. For example, e-waste contributed 53.6 million metric tons of non-recycled waste in 2019, which is projected to grow by more than 2 million each year.
The project is a collaboration between researchers from CU Boulder and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany. Ellen Rumley, a graduate student in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering at CU Boulder, co-authored the study, published in the journal Science Advances.
The project has its roots in a long-standing initiative led by Christoph Keplinger, formerly an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at CU Boulder and now director of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany. In 2018, Keplinger and his team introduced a series of artificial muscles known as Hydraulically Amplified Self-Healing ELectrostatic (HASEL) actuators. Similar to human muscles, these actuators allow the robotic arms to flex like biceps and provide grasping capabilities for the robotic hands and claws.
MPI-IS has developed a prototype robotic gripper composed entirely of sustainable materials. (Credit: MPI-IS)
The new actuators are made entirely of sustainable materials and are as versatile as typical hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic (HASEL) actuators, with the ability to flex for 100,000 cycles or more without damage. The sustainability of the new material system opens up exciting possibilities for applications that require components designed for one-time or short-term use, such as food processing or medical applications.
It was particularly exciting that we ended up with a material system that is fully biodegradable and can still match the key performance indicators of actuators made from non-biodegradable materials, said Keplinger, co-founder of Artimus Robotics, the Boulder-based company that develops and markets HASEL actuators. .
The sustainability of the new material system now opens up very interesting avenues for applications that require components intended for single-use or short-term use, for example in food handling or medical applications.
The decomposition of HASEL biodegradable actuators over a period of 50 days was captured in time-lapse images. (Credit: MPI-IS)
HASEL drives are made from biodegradable transformer oil contained in plastic bags that are partially covered with a thin coating of electrical conductor. When electricity is supplied through the HASEL actuators, the bag closes, compressing the fluid from one end to the other, changing the shape of the bag and exerting force on devices such as robotic limbs.
Details of this research can be found in the team’s work published in the journal Science Advances. The researchers tested various biodegradable candidates, including a biodegradable polyester blend, to replace the plastic bags in their controllers. They demonstrated that their final designs for artificial muscles can lift almost as well as traditional HASEL actuators and degrade in a composting facility in about six months.
How can such soft robotics help future applications?
The emergence of biodegradablesoft robotics represents a significant advance in the field of engineeringwhich offers new opportunities for sustainable technologies and reduces the environmental impact of robotics.
These devices have the potential to revolutionize many industries, especially those where robots are used for short-term or one-time applications such as food processing or medical procedures. Biodegradable soft robotics could replace single-use devices in certain applications, reducing waste and lowering costs. Additionally, biodegradable soft robotics can be used in applications where rigid, non-biodegradable materials are inappropriate, such as wearable technology or medical implants.
Biodegradable soft robotics can be used in applications where rigid, non-biodegradable materials are inappropriate or could pose risks, such as wearable technology or medical implants.
One of the main advantages of biodegradable soft robotics is their ability to adapt to irregular and delicate surfaces. This makes them ideal for applications in which the robot must communicate with or navigate a complex environment, such as inside the human body. Soft robotics has the potential to be used in a variety of medical procedures, from drug delivery to minimally invasive surgery.
The sustainability of biodegradable soft robotics also has significant environmental implications. E-waste is a growing problem, with millions of tons of unrecycled waste produced annually. By creating devices that can be safely disposed of in composting facilities, we can reduce the environmental impact of robotics and promote a more sustainable future.
Overall, the development of biodegradable soft robotics is an exciting development for the field of engineering. As technology continues to evolve, it is essential to prioritize sustainability and reduce our impact on the environment. Biodegradable soft robotics represent a significant step forward in this regard, offering a new generation of devices that are both functional and ecological.