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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32C3: My Robot Will Crush You With Its Soft Delicate Hands!

In his talk at 32C3 [Matthew Borgatti] talked both about his company’s work with NASA toward developing robotic spacesuits and helping people with Cerebral Palsy better control their limbs. What do these two domains have in common? “One-size fits all pneumatic exoskeletons.”

[Matthew] makes a tremendously compelling case for doing something new and difficult in robotics — making robotic systems out of squishy, compliant materials. If you think about it, most robots are hard: made of metal and actuated by motors and gears, cables, or (non-compressible) pneumatic fluid. If you want to build suits that play well with soft and squishy people, they’ll need at least a layer of softness somewhere.

But [Matthew]’s approach is to make everything soft. In the talk, he mentions a few biological systems (octopus arms and goat’s feet) that work exactly because they’re soft. Why soft? Because soft spreads force around automatically and accommodates uneven terrain. And this makes it easier on the people who wear robotic suits and on the designers of the robots who don’t need to worry about the fine detail of the ground they’re walking on.

The talk ended up being very short, but there’s a fantastic Q&A at the end. It’s a must-see. And if you can’t get enough of [Matthew] or squishy robots, we’ve covered his robots before and he even had an entry in the Hackaday Prize.

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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