MIT researchers develop new technique for controlling soft robots, paving the way for more energy-efficient and versatile designs

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new technique for controlling the movement of soft robots, which could lead to more efficient and versatile designs. In a study published in the journal Science Robotics, the team led by Xuanhe Zhao, a professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering at MIT, described the method for controlling the motion of soft robots using “sequential pneumatic artificial muscles.”

The potential applications of soft robots are vast, from performing delicate surgical procedures to exploring remote or hazardous environments. Soft robots are gaining traction in the world of robotics due to their ability to navigate tight spaces and perform delicate tasks that traditional robots cannot. However, one of the challenges of soft robots is controlling their motion effectively.

The researchers at MIT have addressed this challenge by developing a new approach to control the movement of soft robots. They used sequential pneumatic artificial muscles to control the pressure of air flowing into the robot’s muscles in a specific sequence to achieve the desired motion. By adjusting the sequence of muscle activation, the researchers were able to control both the forward and backward motion of the robot, as well as the height of its movement.

The team tested their approach on a soft robot that was designed to mimic the movement of a caterpillar. They found that by adjusting the sequence of muscle activation, they could make the robot move forward or backward, or even turn in a specific direction. They also found that their approach allowed them to control the height of the robot’s movement. By adjusting the sequence of muscle activation, they were able to make the robot bend upward to pass under a low gap, similar to slipping under a door.

One of the key advantages of this approach is its energy efficiency. Because the robot’s movement is controlled by changing the pressure of air flowing into its muscles, there is no need for motors or other energy-intensive components. This could make soft robots more practical for a wide range of applications, including search-and-rescue missions where energy efficiency is critical.

“We’re interested in exploring ways that we could make it even more efficient,” said Hyunwoo Yuk, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT and co-author of the study. “Additional next steps include integrating this approach to soft robot locomotion with sensors or other technologies for use in various applications – such as search-and-rescue devices.”

The potential applications of soft robots are vast, and this breakthrough technology could be a game-changer for the world of robotics. Soft robots could be used in industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, and space exploration. They could also be used for tasks such as monitoring environmental conditions, assisting with disaster relief efforts, and exploring hard-to-reach areas.

Overall, this new approach to controlling the motion of soft robots could help shape the future of how robots interact with the world around them. As soft robots continue to gain popularity, this breakthrough could lead to even more versatile and efficient designs in the future.


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