Flexible Actuators Spring Into Action

Most experiments in flexible robot actuators are based around pneumatics, but [Ayato Kanada] and [Tomoaki Mashimo] has been working on using a coiled spring as the moving component of a linear actuator. Named the flexible ultrasonic motor (FUSM), [Yunosuke Sato] built on top of their work and assembled a pair of FUSM into a closed-loop actuator with motion control in two dimensions.

A single FUSM is pretty interesting by itself, its coiled spring is the only mechanical moving part. An earlier paper published by [Kanada] and [Mashimo] laid out how to push the spring through a hole in a metal block acting as the stator of this motor. Piezoelectric devices attached to that block minutely distorts it in a controlled manner resulting in linear motion of the spring.

For closed-loop feedback, electrical resistance from the free end of the spring to the stator block can be measured and converted to linear distance to within a few millimeters. However, the acting end of the spring might be deformed via stretching or bending, which made calculating its actual position difficult. Accounting for such deformation is a future topic for this group of researchers.

This work was presented at IROS2020 which like many other conferences this year, moved online and became IROS On-Demand. After a no-cost online registration we can watch the 12-minute recorded presentation on this project or any other at the conference. The video includes gems such as an exaggerated animation of stator block deformation to illustrate how a FUSM works, and an example of the position calculation challenge where the intended circular motion actually resulted in an oval.

Speaking of conferences that have moved online, we have our own Hackaday Remoticon coming up soon!

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Magnets Turn Flexible PCB Into Electric Grasshopper

Just because something doesn’t seem to have an apparent purpose, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try making it anyway. As flexible PCBs become cheaper and easier to order from low-scale fab houses, we’re seeing hobbyists experiment with new uses for them such as [Carl Bugeja]’s jumping circuit.

The circuit is based a coil printed on the flexible PCB itself acting as an electromagnet, but unlike other designs which use the same trick, in this one the coil is made to be the static side of an actuator. Attached to the circuit with folding arms is a stack of two permanent magnets, which work as the moving part. Since the magnets make up most of the mass of the circuit, as they’re pushed down and sprung back up, it causes the whole thing to leap around just under one centimeter off the table like a little electric grasshopper.

This is far from [Carl]’s first appearance here on Hackaday, and he’s been clearly busy exploring new uses for flexible PCBs with their properties as electromagnets, from making POV displays with them to small robots that move around through vibration. We’re excited to see what else he can come up with, and you can see this one in action after the break.

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3D Printed Muscle Is Inflated During Printing

Just when you think you’ve seen it all… [Fergal Coulter] over on the RepRap forums just came up with a method of 3D printing on inflatable structures — wait what?

The process uses a custom 3D printer with a paste extrusion head, and a 4th axis — with a pneumatic air supply. Using a spray deposition method, a silicone tube is formed, and then each layer is cured using a infrared light, which is also built into the system. Once the silicone is thick enough, it is then pressurized to inflate through the air-permeable mandrel. A laser then scans the shape of the inflated silicone to allow the computer to generate tool paths for the surface. Then you hit print. Simple right?

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