Updated: May 13, 2020 12:51:05 pm
Taking inspiration from cheetahs, researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new type of soft robot that is capable of moving more quickly than previous generations.
The paper “Leveraging Elastic instabilities for Amplified Performance (LEAP): spine-inspired high-speed and high-force soft robots” published in the journal Science Advances claims that the new soft robotics based on the biomechanics of a cheetah is also capable of grabbing objects delicately and with sufficient strength.
Soft robots have attracted researchers because of their safe and adaptive interaction with humans in harsh environments. These soft robots help achieve a wide range of functionalities that are rarely possible with conventional robots. However, because of the intrinsic limitations of soft materials, soft machines are slow and have low manipulation strength.
That is where researchers applied cheetah-like spine design to make fast and strong soft machines. “Cheetahs are the fastest creatures on land, and they derive their speed and power from the flexing of their spines,” says Jie Yin, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of a paper on the new soft robots.
“We were inspired by the cheetah to create a type of soft robot that has a spring-powered, ‘bistable’ spine, meaning that the robot has two stable states,” Yin says.
“We can switch between these stable states rapidly by pumping air into channels that line the soft, silicone robot,” he adds. “Switching between the two states releases a significant amount of energy, allowing the robot to quickly exert force against the ground. This enables the robot to gallop across the surface, meaning that its feet leave the ground.”
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Yini adds that previous soft robots were crawlers, remaining in contact with the ground at all times, which limited their speed. The fastest soft robots until now could move at speeds of up to 0.8 body lengths per second on flat, solid surfaces.
However, the new class of soft robots called “Leveraging Elastic instabilities for Amplified Performance” (LEAP) are able to reach speeds of up to 2.7 body lengths per second. As per the press release shared by the University, LEAPs are approximately 7 centimetres long and weigh about 45 grams and capable of running up steep inclines, which can be challenging or impossible for soft robots that exert less force against the ground.
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“We also demonstrated the use of several soft robots working together, like pincers, to grab objects,” Yin says. “By tuning the force exerted by the robots, we were able to lift objects as delicate as an egg, as well as objects weighing 10 kilograms or more.”
The researchers say that LEAP robots are can be made even faster and more powerful that can be fine-tuned to incorporate into operations of private sector enterprises.
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