Squishy Robot Hardware Does Well Under Pressure

If your jealousy for Festo robots is festering, fret not! [mikey77] has shown us that, even without giant piggy banks, we can still construct some fantastic soft robotics projects with a 3D printer and a visit to the hardware store. To get started, simply step through the process with this 3D Printed Artificial Muscles: Erector Set project on Instructables.

In a nutshell, [mikey77] generously offers us a system for designing soft robots built around a base joint mechanism: the Omega Muscle. Fashioned after its namesake, this base unit contains an inflatable membrane that expands with pressure and works in tandem with another Omega Muscle to produce upward and downward angular movement. Each muscle also contains two endpoints to connect to a base, a gripper, or more Omega Muscles. Simply scale them as needed and stack them to produce a custom soft robot limb, or use the existing STLs to make an articulated soft gripper.

This project actually comes in two parts for robot brawns and brains. Not only does [mikey77] take us through the process for making Omega muscles, we also get a guide for building the pressure system designed to control them. Taken together, it’s a feature-complete setup for exploring your own soft robotics projects with a great starting project. Stay tuned after the break for a demo video in action. There’s no audio, but we’re sure you’ll be letting off an audible pssssh in satisfaction to follow along.

It’s not every day that we see FFF-based 3D printers making parts that need to be airtight. And [mikey77’s] success has us optimistic for seeing more air muscles in future projects down the road. In the meantime, have a look at the silicone-silicon half-breeds that we’ve previously caught pumping iron.

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Turn Your Teddy Bear Into A Robot With Yale’s “Robotic Skin”

Despite what we may have seen in the new Winnie the Pooh movie, our cherished plush toys don’t usually come to life. But if that’s the goal, we have ways of making it happen. Like these “robotic skins” from Yale University.

Each module is a collection of sensors and actuators mounted on a flexible substrate, which is then installed onto a flexible object serving as structure. In a simple implementation, the mechanical bits are sewn onto a piece of fabric and tied with zippers onto a piece of foam. The demonstration video (embedded below the break) runs through several more variations of the theme. From making a foam tube (“pool noodle”) crawl like a snake to making a horse toy’s legs move.

There’s a serious motivation behind these entertaining prototypes. NASA is always looking to reduce weight that must be launched into space, and this was born from the idea of modular robotics. Instead of actuators and sensors embedded in a single robot performing a specific function, these robotic skins can be moved around to different robot bodies to perform a variety of tasks. Such flexibility can open up more capabilities while occupying less weight on the rocket.

This idea is still early in development and the current level prototypes look like something most of us can replicate and improve upon for use in our projects. We’ve even got a controller for those pneumatics. With some more development, it may yet place among the ranks of esoteric actuators.

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Artificial Muscles To Bring Relief To Robotic Tenseness

Custom, robotic prosthesis are on the rise. In numerous projects, hackers and makers have taken on the challenge. From Enabling The Future, Open Hand Project, OpenBionics to the myriad prosthesis projects on Hackaday.io. Yet, the mechatronics that power most of them are still from the last century. At the end of the day, you can only fit so many miniature motors and gears into a plastic hand, and only so many hydraulics fit onto an arm or leg before it becomes a slow, heavy brick – more hindering than helpful. If only we had a few extra of these light, fast and powerful actuators that help us make it through the day. If only we had artificial muscles.

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Robot arm is Soft

Soft And Squishy Silicone Robotics

This robot arm and gripper is made almost entirely out of silicone. Casting the parts by hand, [Mike] assembled this working, remote controlled robot arm gripper.

We’ll let that sink in for a minute. He turned an oversized tooth-paste tube of silicone caulking… into a pneumatic robotic arm. Holy cow. We’ve seen lots of soft robotics before, but this is some really cool stuff!

You see, [Mike] is actually planning on building an inexpensive prosthetic robot hand using this technology. This was merely a test to see how well he could make silicone based air muscles — we’d say it was pretty successful! Each silicone disk in this robotic appendage has four sealed pockets inside of it. When air flows in through them, they inflate, causing the entire appendage to stretch on one side. With four of these, and varying amounts of pressure, it’s possible to move the appendage in any direction!

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