New research from Harvard’s engineering program has enabled engineers to create a better ‘soft’ robot that vastly improves on older methods of making flexible robotics that mimic the way muscles and tissue move in nature. The research appears in Advanced Materials this month.
According to Mishu Duduta, a researcher at Harvard’s school of engineering, the key lies in powering the actuators with a better class of material than previous soft robotics, which relied on elastomers stretched over a rigid frame. This new design uses an elastomer from UCLA, and carbon nanotubes to deliver electricity to the actuators.
Actuation has always been one of the most difficult aspects of robotics. The new developments by Harvard’s team brings the field of robotics closer to mimicking muscle performance, and could be applicable in everything from surgical tools, to advanced robotics designed to work with and alongside human machine operators and technicians. The technology could even be adapted to produce artificial muscles in prosthetics and other medical devices.
Industrial robots could easily benefit from the added dexterity and precision of soft robotics. InduSoft has maintained a commitment to supporting robotics development, offering drivers for Kawasaki, Motoman, Modbus TCP, and more. A common architecture many applications use to integrate robotics have InduSoft Web Studio communicating with the PLC, which then communicates with the robots.
You can read more in the InduSoft case study about an application that uses a robotic arm to encourage interest in STEM fields:
You can also listen to the recent interview with MSITec.
Some industrial robot vendors are now using HMI/SCADA software on the programming terminal to build intelligence into the robots so that they are capable of more tasks. With advanced robotics that are able to be flexible in shape and design, the possibilities are endless. There is a convergence in the robot market with other technologies such as machine vision, speech recognition, and advanced mechanics, with HMI/SCADA adding robust intelligence to robotic applications. With an additional layer of physical machine flexibility, robotics may soon be able to fully realize the possibilities of performing new tasks on the fly without necessary re-tooling.