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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Oh boy do we want to ride a giant inflatable robot

We’ve seen videos of people attaching chairs to gigantic welding robots and riding them around the shop, and while that would be fun for a little bit, the joy would be fleeting. Flight simulators built on a Stewart Platform are becoming old hat. Now there’s a new robot we want to ride.

[Saul Griffith] from Otherlab has been working on pneumatic robots for some time now, and he just wrapped up his Ant-Roach build seen above. It’s a 15-foot-long cross between an anteater and a cockroach that’s completely inflatable and can actually walk with the help of an air compressor.

The ‘muscles’ of the ant-roach are fabric actuators that contract when inflated. Of course this makes the mechanics look like something out a biology book, but the robot is still a neat piece of engineering. The ant-roach weighs in at 70 pounds but could probably support a half-ton of riders.

From the videos after the break, we can see that the ant-roach looks a little clumsy when walking. [Travis Deyle] sent in his contribution that details an amazing inflatable robotic arm that can beat any human in an arm wrestling match. Now we can’t wait for a giant anthropomorphized bouncy castle to start lumbering to a children’s carnival.

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