New method will not only ensure the safety and durability of soft robots but also make their movements more precise
Soft robots are created to accomplish tasks impossible to perform with more conventional, rigid robots. As the name suggests, these robots are composed entirely of soft, flexible materials that can easily get deformed or lose their shape with blows. And that's a big problem.
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MIT researchers are hoping to solve this issue with 3D printed ‘shock-absorbing’ skins. They have introduced a new method for 3D printing material that acts as a shock absorber and protects robots from the damage. Not only does it provide protection from blows but also make robots more precise in their movement.
Researchers have used a technique called “programmable viscoelastic material” (PVM) which lets users construct every single part of a 3D printed object to the exact level of elasticity or stiffness they want.
MIT researchers have also released a video in which they explain how the technology works. The video shows a 3D printed cube robot that moves by bouncing. The robot is covered with shock-absorbing skin and the skin allows the robot to land more safely and precisely compared to a fall without padding.
“Right now, a lot of soft robots are made out of silicone and other types of rubber. You don’t always want to build a robot out of a material that’s bouncy, however. For instance, if you want it to jump from one place to another and really nail the landing, you need to absorb the shock. Our bodies can do that naturally, but soft robots sometimes have a problem absorbing the energy needed for landing correctly.” Co-author Jeffrey Lipton told Digital Trends.
“What’s exciting about it (technique) is that it allows us to control the mechanical properties in any particular volume of the part that we print. You can ensure that some parts of an object are stiff, other parts are very soft and all in what looks like the same piece of solid material. That’s really different from any other fabrication approach out there.”
This technique has huge implications in many fields and could be used to improve the function and durability of drones, phones, protective gear and so on. By combining properties of multiple materials, users can customize the skin and bodies of the soft robots and can better direct and control the energy produced by landing on the ground.