When we think of pneumatic actuators, we typically consider the standard varieties of pneumatic cylinder, capable of linear motion. These can be referred to as “hard” actuators, made of rigid components and capable of great accuracy and force delivery. However, “soft” actuators have their own complementary abilities – such as being able to handle more delicate tasks and being less likely to injure human operators when used in collaborative operations. The Whitesides Research Group at Harvard University has undertaken significant research in this field, and released a paper covering a novel type of soft pneumatic actuator.
The actuator consists of a series of soft, flexible sealed chambers which surround a wooden dowel in the center. By applying vacuum to these various chambers, the dowel in the center can be pulled into up to eight different positions. It’s a unique concept, and one we can imagine could have applications in various material processing scenarios.
The actuator was built by moulding elastomers around 3D printed components, so this is a build that could theoretically be tackled by the DIYer. The paper goes into great detail to quantify the performance of the actuator, and workshops several potential applications. Testing is done on a fluid delivery and stirring system, and a tethered robotic walker was built. The team uses the term cVAMS – cyclical vacuum actuated machine – to describe the actuator technology.
We’ve seen our fair share of soft silicone robots around here. Typically they are produced through a casting process, where molds are printed and then filled with liquid silicone to form the robot parts. These parts are subsequently removed from the molds and made to wiggle, grip, and swim through the use of pneumatic or hydraulic pumps and valves. MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab has found a way to print the parts directly instead, by extruding silicone, layer by layer, into a gel-filled tank.
The Self-Assembly Lab’s site is unfortunately light on details, but there is a related academic paper (behind a paywall, alas) that documents the process. From the abstract, it seems the printing process is intended for more general purpose printing needs, and is able to print any “photo or chemically cured” material, including two-part mixtures. Additionally, because of the gel-filled tank, the material need not be deposited in flat layers like a traditional 3D-printer. More interesting shapes and material properties could be created by using the full 3d-volume to do 3D extrusion paths.
To see some of the creative shapes and mechanisms developed by MIT using this process, check out the two aesthetically pleasing videos of pulsating soft white silicone shapes after the break.
We sometimes wonder if designers ever actually use their own products, or even put them through some sort of human-factors testing before putting them on the market. Consider the mechanism that secures toolholders to the spindle of a milling machine: the drawbar. Some mills require you to lock the spindle with a spanner wrench, loosen the drawbar with another wrench, and catch the released collet and tool with – what exactly?
Unwilling to have the surgical modifications that would qualify him for the Galactic Presidency, [Physics Anonymous] chose instead to modify his mill with a power drawbar. The parts are cheap and easily available, with the power coming from a small butterfly-style pneumatic wrench. The drawbar on his mill has a nearly 3/8″ square drive – we’d guess it’s really 10 mm – which almost matches up with the 3/8″ drive on the air wrench, so he whipped up a female-to-female adapter from a couple of socket adapters. The wrench mounts to a cover above the drawbar in a 3D-printed holster. Pay close attention to the video below where he goes through the Fusion 360 design; we were intrigued by the way he imported three orthogonal photos on the wrench to design the holster around. That’s a tip to file away for a rainy day.
This is a great modification to a low-cost milling machine. If you’re in the process of buying machine tools, you should really check out our handy buyer’s guides for both milling machines and lathes. It’ll let you know what features to look out for, and which you’ll have to add later.
You will no doubt have seen those videos where MRI machines suck up all sorts of metallic objects with hilariously disastrous results. The magnetic field in one of these machines can easily pull in metal objects from across the room, exerting a force of several hundred pounds on any ferrous object unlucky enough to wander too close. As you can probably imagine, designing mechanical devices that can operate in such an intense magnetic field is exceptionally difficult.
But this fully 3D printed pneumatic stepper motor designed by [Foad Sojoodi Farimani] might one day change that. The PneuAct, which he presented at the recent International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Brisbane, Australia, manages to run at up to 850 RPM with full position control using bursts of air rather than electronic pulses. Made entirely of plastic and without any electronic components, the PneuAct can not only operate in intense magnetic fields but also areas with flammable gases where sparks could potentially cause an explosion.
We often say that a design is “fully” 3D printable, even though it might require screws or other bits of hardware. But in the case of the PneuAct, it’s truly all printed. It has to be, or else the whole thing would be ripped apart when it got to close to the MRI machine. Each and every piece of the motor is printed in ABS, and can be used without any additional machining or cleanup. No lubrication is required, and [Foad] mentions that the whole thing is so cheap that it can be disposable. Which is a huge advantage in medical environments where contamination could be a concern.
I immediately felt uncomfortable when I realized this thing is called the “Breo iPalm520 Acupressure Hand Massager”. You’re supposed to stick your hand into it, and through unknown machinations it performs some kind of pressure massage complete with heating action. It’s like one of those pain boxes from Dune. It’s all the more disturbing when you realize the red button on the thing is an emergency release. That’s right, once your hand is in this contraption you can’t take it out until the thing has had its way with you or you tap out.
At least once a week I try to get to the local thrift store to look for interesting things. I’d like to be more specific than “interesting things”, but truth be told, I never really know what I’m looking for until I see it. Sure there’s the normal consumer electronics kind of stuff, but I’ve also found some very nice laboratory equipment, computer parts, software, technical books, etc. You just have to go regularly and keep an eye out for the occasional needle amongst the hay.
I want you to know, Dear Readers, that I did briefly summon the courage to put my hand into this thing and turn it on. Now I am not what one might call an overly brave man, and perhaps that might explain my personal experience. But when it started to hum and heat up, constricting around my hand to the point I couldn’t move my fingers, I screamed like a child and mashed the emergency button as if I was a pilot trying to eject from a mortally wounded aircraft. As far as Frank Herbert is concerned, I’m no human at all.
In an effort to better understand this torture device, lets open it up and see what lurks beneath that futuristic exterior.
When [John Saunders] wanted an automatic door for his shop, rather than settle for a commercial unit, he designed and built a proximity-sensing opener to ease his passing. Sounds simple, right?
Fortunately for us, there are no half-measures at Saunders Machine Works, thanks to the multiple Tormach workcells and the people who know how to use them. The video below treats us to quite a build as a result; the first part is heavy on machining the many parts for the opener, so skip ahead to 8:33 if you’re more interested in the control electronics and programming.
The opener uses time-of-flight distance sensors and an Arduino to detect someone approaching, with a pneumatic cylinder to part a plastic strip curtain. [John] admits to more than a little scope creep with this one, which is understandable when you’ve got easy access to the tools needed to create specialized parts at will.
In the end, though, it works well for everyone but [Judd], the shop dog, and it certainly looks like it was a fun build to boot. [John]’s enthusiasm for mixing machining and electronics is infectious; check out his automated bowl feeder for assembly line use.
We’ve all seen finger joints or box joints, those interlocking puzzle pieces that make laser-cut plywood enclosures such a fixture for DIY projects. But laser cutters make finger joints look much easier to fabricate than they are with traditional woodworking tools, which often lead to disappointing results.
But this finger joint cutting robot is no traditional woodworking tool, and [timschefter] put a lot of work into building the rig. We have to admit that when we first saw the video below, the thought of having a table saw in our shop that could be turned on with a button on a phone gave us pause. But on closer analysis, it looks like safety was a major concern with this build. With a prominent e-stop and an interlock switch, the small table saw that forms the foundation of the robot should be safe enough. On the table top is a sled with a linear slide that moves the workpiece perpendicular to the blade, and the sled moves back and forth over the blade with pneumatic cylinders. The joint is set up with a custom app which calculates the pin width and spacing, which can be evenly distributed across the panel, or, for a bit of geeky fun, controlled to make a joint that encodes a message in Morse.