Soft Robotic Jellyfish Get Pumped in the Atlantic

In a recent paper in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, researchers at Florida Atlantic University describe the process of building and testing five free-swimming soft robotic jellyfish. The paper contains build details and data on how three different variables – tentacle stiffness, stroke frequency, and stroke amplitude – affect the swimming characteristics of each bot. For a more in-depth build log, we found the original masters thesis by Jennifer Frame to be very thorough, including processes, schematics, parts lists, and even some Arduino code.

Though a landlubber may say the robots look more like a stumpy octopus than a jellyfish, according to the paper the shape is actually most similar to a juvenile “ephyra stage” moon jellyfish, with 8 short tentacles radiating from a central body. The flexible tentacles are made of a silicon rubber material from Smooth-On, and were cast in 3D printed molds. Inside the waterproof main body is a Teensy 3.2 microcontroller, some flash memory, a nine-axis IMU, a temperature sensor, and a 9 V battery.

There are two flexible resistors embedded in the body to measure tentacle flex, and the actual flexing is done by pumping seawater through open circuit hydraulic channels cast into the tentacles. Two 3 V mini pumps are sufficient for pumping, and the open circuit means that when the pumps turn off, the tentacles bleed off any remaining pressure and quickly snap back to their “neutral” position without the use of complicated valves.

Another simple feature is two hall effect sensors that were mounted in the body to enable waterproof “wireless communication” with the microcontroller. The wireless protocol of choice: manually waving magnets over the sensors to switch the robot between a few predefined operating modes.

There’s a soothing, atmospheric video after the break, where you can see the robots in action off the coast of Florida.

Continue reading “Soft Robotic Jellyfish Get Pumped in the Atlantic”

This 3D Printed Syringe Static Mixer Does It All

One trick for getting the bubbles out of freshly mixed 2-part epoxy, aka degassing, is to go over it gently with the flame from a propane torch. But both the mixing and degassing take time. [Gianteye] came up with a 3D printed dual-syringe static mixing system which speeds up the process. He used it with silicone to get the difficult steps out of the way quickly for his hands-on soft robotics class, allowing the students to focus more on the matter at hand. But we figure most readers might use it for epoxy.

Mixing tube interior
Mixing tube interior

If you’ve bought those 2-part epoxy syringes available in stores before then you’ll know that they usually come with two syringes, each filled with one of the two parts to be mixed. Depressing the syringes causes each part to come out of its own tube. It’s then your job to mix them together and degas the result.

[Gianteye’s] system consists of 3D printed parts and two syringes.  Models for the 3D printing are available on his Thingiverse page and the syringes can be found online. Some of the 3D printed parts help you first fill and degas the syringes. You then attach a 3D printed mixing tube to the ends of the syringes. This tube serves two purposes. When the syringe’s plungers are depressed, both parts of the material are forced through the tube and extruded out. But on their way through, both parts pass through eight helices which form 180° turns and mix the parts together. Out comes the portioned, mixed and degassed material which can go straight into a mold or to wherever you need it.

The mixing tube was designed for one-time use but [Gianteye] discovered during an evaluation that it can be reused if you pull out any cured material and purge it. The evaluation involved silicone though. With hardened epoxy, you’ll probably have to use a new tube each time.

Check out the full details of his system in the video below, including both assembly and usage.

If you’re looking for a metallic look for something without wanting to cast metal than have a look at our own [Gerrit Coetzee’s] article about cold casting wherein he makes some very nice looking parts.

Continue reading “This 3D Printed Syringe Static Mixer Does It All”

Building Pneumatic Actuators With 3D Printed Molds

Pneumatic actuators offer interesting perspectives in applications like soft robotics and interaction design. [Aidan Leitch] makes his own pneumatic actuators from silicone rubber. His actuators contain embedded air channels that can be filled with pressurized air and completely collapse to a flat sheet when no pressure is applied. Continue reading “Building Pneumatic Actuators With 3D Printed Molds”

3D Printed Eyeglasses, VR Lenses

[Florian] is hyped for Google Cardboard, Oculus Rifts, and other head mounted displays, and with that comes an interest in lenses. [Floian] wanted to know if it was possible to create these lenses with a 3D printer. Why would anyone want to do this when these lenses can be had from dozens of online retailers for a few dollars? The phrase, ‘because I can’ comes to mind.

The starting point for the lens was a CAD model, a 3D printer, and silicone mold material. Clear casting resin fills the mold, cures, and turns into a translucent lens-shaped blob. This is the process of creating all lenses, and by finely sanding, polishing, and buffing this lens with grits ranging from 200 to 7000, this bit of resin slowly takes on an optically clear shine.

Do these lenses work? Yes, and [Florian] managed to build a head mounted display that can hold an iPhone up to his face for viewing 3D images and movies. The next goal is printing prescription glasses, and [Florian] seems very close to achieving that dream.

The last time we saw home lens making was more than a year ago. Is anyone else dabbling in this dark art? Let us know in the comments below and send in a tip if you have a favorite lens hack in mind.

3D Printed Molds and Silicone Caulking

Have you ever had a pair of ear buds fit perfectly out of the package? Probably not. Well, [Joe] decided to take matters into his own hands and cast his own silicone ear bud covers custom made for him.

The traditional route would have been to make an ear bud model, make a mold from it, cast a copy from it… etc, etc. But [Joe] wanted to try something else — he designed and 3D printed the two-part mold, and used plain old silicone caulking to fill it.

First he 3D modeled the ear bud covers in SolidWorks, then he had to learn how to design the mold for it, but luckily, there’s a handy tutorial. After printing the mold he opted to use 100% silicone caulking in order to make the part since he had some lying around the house. The problem is, this stuff can take days to cure — unless you mix in some cornstarch.

3d printed ear buds

The golden ratio [Joe] found was about 5:1 silicone to cornstarch, which resulted in a cure time of about 20 minutes.

After curing you just need to trim off the excess silicone. In the molding process this is known as “flash”.

Since this is caulking he’s using, you’re going to want to wash off the part a few times because this type of silicone produces acetic acid as it cures.

The ear buds fit great and inspired [Joe] to try molding even more things, like a custom sleeping mask using the 3D scan of your own face!