A Soft Robotic Muscle’s Workout

Through engineering, human ideas can become a reality. The continued education and experimentation will lead humanity forward with ever-evolving technology capable of making life easier, safer, faster, reusable, cleaner -you name it!

Multi-material fluidic actuators glove

Multi-material fluidic actuators glove. Image by Harvard Biodesign Lab.

One example of this is the increase in research of soft robotics. Depending on the application, soft robots are capable of handling small and large objects, of different masses and capable of rapid constant contraction or expansion without losing shape. Their curious structures can mimic muscle movements. They are capable of fast contractions like heartbeats, to being capable of grasping something as delicate as a raspberry.

HASEL or the Hydraulically Amplified Self-healing Electrostatic actuators developed by the  Keplinger Research Group in the College of Engineering and Applied Science “can be constructed from a wide range of low-cost materials, are able to self-sense their movements and self-heal from electrical damage, representing a major advance in soft robotics.”

In comparison with stationary metal robots, soft robots can adapt to multiple tasks. They have the ability to repeat tasks and adjust to changes. Stationary, solid robots, on the other hand, are mostly designed for heavy duty tasks and customization to do different tasks can become expensive.

Application

Soft robots can be designed to use in fields, medicine, and manufacturing. They can be made to assist in medicine from surgeries to rehabilitation in patients. In the same way, they can assist the elderly by enhancing the user’s strength by creating an exo-suit. Smaller applications include the creation of ventricular assist devices that mimic cardiac compressions.

Working alongside soft robots in a manufacturing environment, for example, can lead to a safer work area. Typically, humans and rigid robots would be separated to prevent the fast-paced motion of the robot to injure a human.

The Harvard Biodesign Lab also developed the Soft Fiber-reinforced Actuators capable of bending, twisting and extending themselves through the use of pressurized fluid. They have applied their research to create devices that can help people that have lost hand mobility and are continuing research into heart assist device.