Robotic Gripper From A Squishy Ball

Soft robotic grippers have some interesting use cases, but the industrial options are not cheap. [James Bruton] was fascinated by the $4000 “bean bag” gripper from Empire Robotics, so he decided to build his own.

The gripper is just a flexible rubber membrane filled with small beads. When it is pushed over a object and the air is sucked out, it holds all the beads together, molded to the shape of the object. For his version [James] used a soft rubber ball filled with BBs. To create a vacuum, he connected a large 200cc syringe to the ball via a hose, and actuated it with a high torque servo.

It worked well for small, light objects but failed on heavier, smooth objects with no edges to grip onto. This could possibly be improved if the size and weight of the beads/BBs are reduced.

For some more soft robotics, check out this soft 3D printed hand, and the flexible electrically driven actuators. Continue reading “Robotic Gripper From A Squishy Ball”

Pool Noodle Robot Shines A Light On The Pros And Cons Of Soft Robots

[James Bruton]’s impressive portfolio of robots has always used conventional rigid components, so he decided to take a bit of a detour and try his hand at a soft robot. Using a couple of few inflatable pool noodles for quick prototyping, his experiments quickly showed some of the strengths and weaknesses of soft robots.

Most of the soft robots we see require an external air source to inflate cells in the robot and make the limbs actuate. Taking inspiration from a recent Stanford research project, [James] decided to take an alternative approach, using partially inflated tubes and squeezing them in one section to make the other sections more rigid. He bought a couple of cheap pool noodles and experimented with different methods of turning them into actuators. The approach he settled on was a pair of noodles tied together side by side, and then folded in half by an elastic cord. As one end is squeezed by a servo bellows, the internal pressure overcomes the tension from the elastic cord, and the “elbow” straightens out.

[James] tested various arrangements of these limbs to build a working hexapod robot but to no avail. The simple actuating mechanism was simply too heavy, and could just lift itself slightly. This highlighted a common theme in almost all the soft pneumatic robots we’ve seen: they carry very little weight and are always tethered to an external air supply. The combination of stretchy materials and relatively low pressure compressed air can only handle small loads, at least in Earth gravity and above water. Continue reading “Pool Noodle Robot Shines A Light On The Pros And Cons Of Soft Robots”

Assistive Gloves Come In Pairs

We have to hand it to this team, their entry for the 2020 Hackaday Prize is a classic pincer maneuver. A team from [The University of Auckland] in New Zealand and [New Dexterity] is designing a couple of gloves for both rehabilitation and human augmentation. One style is a human-powered prosthetic for someone who has lost mobility in their hand. The other form uses soft robotics and Bluetooth control to move the thumb, fingers, and an extra thumb (!).

The human-powered exoskeleton places the user’s hand inside a cabled glove. When they are in place, they arch their shoulders and tighten an artificial tendon across their back, which pulls their hand close. To pull the fingers evenly, there is a differential box which ensures pressure goes where it is needed, naturally. Once they’ve gripped firmly, the cables stay locked, and they can relax their shoulders. Another big stretch and the cords relax.

In the soft-robotic model, a glove is covered in inflatable bladders. One set spreads the fingers, a vital physical therapy movement. Another bladder acts as a second thumb for keeping objects centered in the palm. A cable system draws the fingers closed like the previous glove, but to lock them they evacuate air from the bladders, so jamming layers retain their shape, like food in a vacuum bag.

We are excited to see what other handy inventions appear in this year’s Hackaday Prize, like the thumbMouse, or how about more assistive tech that uses hoverboards to help move people?

Continue reading “Assistive Gloves Come In Pairs”

Experiments In Soft Robotics

[Arnav Wagh] has been doing some cool experiments in soft robotics using his home 3D printer.

Soft robots have a lot of advantages, but as [Arnav] points out on his website, it’s pretty hard to get started in the same way as one might with another type of project. You can’t necessarily go on Amazon and order a ten pack of soft robot actuators in the way you can Arduinos.

The project started by imitating other projects. First he copied the universities who have done work in this arena by casting soft silicone actuators. He notes the same things that they did, that they’re difficult to produce and prone to punctures. Next he tried painting foam with silicone, which worked, but it was still prone to punctures, and there was a consensus that it was creepy. He finally had a breakthrough playing with origami shapes. After some iteration he was able to print them reliably with an Ultimaker.

Finally to get it into the “easy to hack together on a weekend” range he was looking for: he designed it to be VEX compatible. You can see them moving in the video after the break.

Continue reading “Experiments In Soft Robotics”

Hackaday Podcast 042: Capacitive Earthquakes, GRBL On ESP32, Solenoid Engines, And The TI-99 Space Program

Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys talk turkey on the latest hacks. Random numbers, art, and electronic geekery combine into an entropic masterpiece. We saw Bart Dring bring new life to a cool little multi-pen plotter from the Atari age. Researchers at UCSD built a very very very slow soft robot, and a broken retrocomputer got a good dose of the space age. A 555 is sensing earthquakes, there’s an electric motor that wants to drop into any vehicle, and did you know someone used to have to read the current time into the telephone ad nauseam?

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (59 MB)

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Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast 042: Capacitive Earthquakes, GRBL On ESP32, Solenoid Engines, And The TI-99 Space Program”

Electricity Makes Soft Robotics More Like Us Meatbags

Building a future where robots work alongside humans relies heavily on soft robotics. Typically this means there will be an air compressor or a hydraulic system nearby, taking up precious space. But it doesn’t have to.

Engineers at the UC-San Diego Jacobs School have created a soft robotics system that uses electricity to control flexible actuators, much like our brains move our muscles. It works like this: sheets of heat-sensitive liquid crystal elastomer are sandwiched between two layers of standard elastomer. These layers are rolled into cylinders that can twist and bend in different directions depending on which of its six element(s) get electricity. Light up all six, and the tube contracts, forming the foundation for a good gripper. The team also built a tiny walker, pictured above.

The project is still in its infancy, so the actuators are slow to bend and even slower to return to their original shape, but it’s still a great start. Imagine all the soft robotic projects that can get off the ground without being shackled by the bulk and weight of an air compressor or fluid handling system. Watch it do various sped-up things after the break, like claw-machine gripping a bottle of chocolate rocks.

Speaking of delicious candy, edible soft robotics is totally a thing.

Continue reading “Electricity Makes Soft Robotics More Like Us Meatbags”

[Jessica] Is Soft On Robot Grippers

It is an old movie trope: a robot grips something and accidentally crushes it with its super robot strength. A little feedback goes a long way, of course, but futuristic robots may also want to employ soft grippers. [Jessica] shows how to build soft grippers made of several cast fingers. The fingers are cast from Ecoflex 00-50, and use air pressure.

A 3D-printed mold is used to cast the Ecoflex fingers, which are only workable for 18 minutes after mixing, so it’s necessary to work fast and have everything ready before you start.

Continue reading “[Jessica] Is Soft On Robot Grippers”