There have been several advances in soft robotics such as the flexible spider, a BionicWheelBot that swims with fishes, a robot that can go from rigid to soft and a soft robot that moves like an eel.But for the most part, robotics are rigid, heavy and built for specific purposes such as industrial use, search and rescue or tasks in the home.
Yale University has developed a robotic skin that can turn any inanimate object into robots. The robotic skin allows users to design their own robotic systems without any specific task in mind. It could be used in everything from search and rescue robots, to wearable technologies, to a child’s toy.
The skins are made from elastic sheets embedded with sensors and actuators and when placed on a deformable object, the skin animates these objects from their surfaces. The makeshift robots can be programed to perform different tasks depending on the properties of the objects and how the skins are applied.
“We can take the skins and wrap them around one object to perform a task — locomotion, for example — and then take them off and put them on a different object to perform a different task, such as grasping and moving an object,” said Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Yale. “We can then take those same skins off that object and put them on a shirt to make an active wearable device.”
The skins allow users to create multi-functional robots on the fly, meaning robots can be put in settings where they haven’t ever been used before, Kramer-Bottiglio said.
Using more than one skin at a time allows for more complex movements of the objects, including simultaneous compression and bending.
Researchers created a handful of prototypes to test the robotic skin, including a foam cylinder that moves like an inchworm, a shirt-like wearable device designed to correct poor posture and a device with a gripper that can grasp and move objects. The next steps are to work on streamlining the devices and exploring the possibility of 3D printing the components.
The full research can be found in the journal Science Robotics.