Harvard researchers have figured out a way to create soft robots with embedded sensors that can provide information about movement, pressure, touch and temperature.
(3D Printed soft robots with embedded sensors)
"Our research represents a foundational advance in soft robotics," said Ryan Truby, first author of the paper and recent Ph.D. graduate at SEAS. "Our manufacturing platform enables complex sensing motifs to be easily integrated into soft robotic systems."
Integrating sensors within soft robots has been difficult in part because most sensors, such as those used in traditional electronics, are rigid. To address this challenge, the researchers developed an organic ionic liquid-based conductive ink that can be 3D printed within the soft elastomer matrices that comprise most soft robots.
"To date, most integrated sensor/actuator systems used in soft robotics have been quite rudimentary," said Michael Wehner, former postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and co-author of the paper. "By directly printing ionic liquid sensors within these soft systems, we open new avenues to device design and fabrication that will ultimately allow true closed loop control of soft robots."
To test the sensors, the team printed a soft robotic gripper comprised of three soft fingers or actuators. The researchers tested the gripper’s ability to sense inflation pressure, curvature, contact, and temperature. They embedded multiple contact sensors, so the gripper could sense light and deep touches.
In Roger Zelazny's Hugo award-winning 1966 novel This Immortal gives sf fans a pretty accurate prediction of this idea. A realistic, soft skin wrestling robot uses special skin described as a radar mesentery to sense its opponent. This permits the robot to judge within ounces how much pressure to apply in a wrestling hold.
Its memory contained hundreds of wrestling holds and its governor theoretically prevented it from killing or maiming its opponent - all through a series of chemelectric afferent nerve-analogues, which permitted it to gauge to an ounce the amount of pressure necessary to snap a bone or tear a tendon...