Researchers invent robotic droplet handlers to clean up hazardous liquids

Researchers invent robotic droplet handlers to clean up hazardous liquids

Newswise – CSU researchers have created the first robotic soft gripper capable of handling individual liquid droplets, according to Recent article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry Material prospects.

This breakthrough is the product of a collaboration between two different laboratories in CSU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. It was accomplished by combining two application technologies, soft robotics and superhydrophobic coatings.

The soft robotic manipulator is made of inexpensive materials such as nylon fibers and tape. It is operated by an electrically activated artificial muscle. The combination can be used to produce handles that are lightweight, inexpensive, and capable of precision work, yet 100 times stronger than human muscles for the same weight.

The result is something that goes against our cultural concept of what a robot is, and what it can do.

Conventional robots are made of heavy, rigid and expensive components. This makes it unsuitable for some tasks.

On the other hand, soft robots can be lightweight and provide a gentle touch that is difficult to achieve with conventional robots. They are much lighter and can be produced at a fraction of the cost of their rigid cousins.

“A single gripper the size of my finger is one or two grams, including the built-in artificial muscle. And it’s inexpensive—just a dollar or two.” Giving Suna postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mechanical Engineering Adaptive Robotics Lab and co-first author on paper.

The smooth robotic clutch is treated with a bulletproof coating that makes drop handling possible. The anti-fouling coating resists wetting of nearly all types of liquids, even in dynamic situations where the contact surfaces tilt or move. When applied to a soft robotic manipulator, the coating enables it to interact with droplets without breaking surface tension, so that it can capture, transport, and release individual droplets as if they were elastic solids.

The highly hydrophobic coatings used in droplet handlers were developed at California State University by an associate professor Aaron Kota (now at North Carolina State University) and Postdoctoral Fellow Wei Wang (Now an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee). Wang and Kota also contributed to the article.

“It’s a great synergy between these two types of research. Dr. Kota has been working on this very good coating, and we’ve been working on this soft robot, for handling droplets, so we figured this could be a good combination,” said the co-author Jiangu Zhaoassistant professor of mechanical engineering at CSU and director of the Adaptive Robotics Lab.

In the early stages of their research, the team had difficulty getting the attention of journal editors. The COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to point out the potential of their invention.

“Because of the epidemic, the handling of dangerous infectious substances is a hot topic. So we added the blood manipulation experiment after the first revision.” “This genre helped us pass the review process.”

The combination of inexpensive materials and innovative capabilities has exciting applications. In many liquid spill scenarios, human cleanup can be dangerous due to toxicity, risk of infection, or other hazards in the surroundings. These drop handlers are inexpensive enough to use once, yet capable enough to do precise, lossless liquid cleaning work that no other robot has ever done.

“It’s the first, but it’s also a very unusual example of a high-tech and very inexpensive product,” Zhao said.

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