HOUSTON – (September 28, 2022) – Add analog and pneumatic to the list of control system options for soft robots.
in Study published online This week, robotics researchers, engineers and materials scientists from Rice University and Harvard University demonstrated that it is possible to create non-programmable electronic circuits that control the actions of soft robots By processing information encoded in bursts of compressed air.
“Part of the beauty of this system is that we can really reduce computation to its core components,” Rice said. Colter Decker, lead author of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Electronic control systems, he said, have been refined and refined for decades, and recreating computer circuits “with analogues for pressure and flow rate rather than voltage and current” made it easier to integrate pneumatic computation.
Decker, a senior specialist in mechanical engineering, built his soft robotic control system primarily from everyday materials such as plastic drinking straws and rubber bands. Despite its simplicity, experiments have shown that the system is propelled by air Logic gates, logic gates It can be configured to perform operations called Boolean functions Namely, the meat and potatoes used in modern computing.
“The goal was never to completely replace electronic computers,” Coulter said. There are many cases where soft robots or wearables need to be programmed for just a few simple movements, he said, and it is possible that the technology described in the paper could be “much cheaper, safer to use and more durable” than traditional electronic controls.
As a new student, Decker began working in a laboratory Daniel Preston , assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Rice. Decker studied fluid control systems and became interested in creating one when he won a competitive summer research fellowship that would allow him to spend a few months working in the lab of a chemist and materials scientist at Harvard University. George Whitesides .
The project turned into a month-long collaboration between the two research groups, and Decker had nine study co-authors, including corresponding authors Preston and Whitesides.
Decker and his colleagues created two components, a piston-like actuator that translates air pressure into mechanical force and a valve that can be switched between two states – off and on. The components were made from parts that included plastic drinking straws, flexible plastic tubes, rubber bands, parchment paper, and Thermoplastic polyurethane The plates can be attached with a desktop heat press or a hot iron.
The research team showed that the two components can be combined into one device, a bistable A valve that acts as a switch and uses air pressure as an inlet and outlet. A certain amount of air pressure is needed to flip the switch between off and on states. The valves are closed by rubber bands, and are programmed by adding or subtracting rubber bands, which changes the amount of pressure required to activate. In tests, Decker has shown that circuits can be used to control a soft robot shaped like a hand, an airbag, and a shoebox-sized robot that can walk a preprogrammed number of steps, retrieve an object and return to its starting position.
“The biggest achievement in this business is the integration of both digital and analog Preston said. Having both means that pneumatic control circuits can be programmed digitally, using “the ones and zeros you think of in a traditional computer. But we can also come with analog capabilities, continuous things.” This allows us to simplify the overall system architecture and realize new capabilities that would otherwise not have been possible to it in previous work.”
It’s rare for a college student to be the lead author of a study in such a prestigious journal as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but Preston said Decker’s success was no accident.
“Rice’s undergraduates are really top notch, and Colter, in his case, has actually risen to the level of a Ph.D. student in terms of some of his output as an undergraduate scholar,” Preston said.
Additional co-authors include Haiwi Joy Jiang, Samuel Root, Jonathan Alvarez, Jovana Tracz, Lucas Weil of Harvard, Anup Rajaban of Rice, and Marcus Nimitz of Worcester Polytechnic.
The research was supported by the Department of Energy (DE-SC0000989), the National Science Foundation (2144809, 2011754, 2025158), the Rice University Fellows Academy and Harvard University Center for Nanosystems.
- Peer Review Paper
“Programmable Soft Fuses for Digital and Analog Control,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2205922119
Colter J. Decker, Haiwei Joy Jiang, Marcus B. Nimitz, Samuel E.
In a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, robotics researchers, engineers, and materials scientists from Rice University and Harvard University show that it is possible to make non-programmable electronic circuits that control the actions of soft robots by processing information encoded in bursts of compressed air. . What started as a summer university research project has turned into a months-long collaboration to demonstrate that simple, air-operated logic gates built primarily from everyday materials such as plastic straws and rubber bands can be integrated and configured into system architectures that include both digital and analog controls for robots. Soft.
(Video produced by Brandon Martin/Rice University)
- Photo Downloads
Caption: Colter Decker, a Rice University student majoring in mechanical engineering, grabs hold of one of the robots he created for a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Photo by Brandon Martin/Rice University)
Caption: Rice University’s Daniel Preston (left) and Colter Decker were part of a team at Rice and Harvard University that created and demonstrated non-electronic, programmable circuits to control soft robots and wearable devices. (Photo by Brandon Martin/Rice University)
Caption: Rice University student Colter Decker, a senior specialist in mechanical engineering, demonstrates a glove that was used to demonstrate analog features of a soft robotic soft air control circuit. (Photo by Brandon Martin/Rice University)
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