Innovative Soft Hydraulic Mini-Actuators for Small 3D-printed Robots

Researchers at North Carolina State University have successfully demonstrated fully 3D-printed miniature sub-millimeter-thick soft hydraulic actuators that can be integrated with shape memory materials for shape morphing and locking. This breakthrough technology allows for precise control over the deformation and motion of small soft robots, opening up new possibilities for applications in various fields.

Developed by a team led by Jie Yin, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State, these miniature soft hydraulic actuators leverage multi-material 3D printing technologies and shape memory polymers. The actuators consist of two layers – a flexible polymer layer with microfluidic channels and a shape memory polymer layer. By pumping fluid into the microfluidic channels, hydraulic pressure is generated, enabling the soft robot to move and change shape as desired.

The pattern of microfluidic channels plays a crucial role in controlling the motion and shape change of the soft robot. The amount and speed of fluid introduced determine the speed of movement and force exerted by the soft robot. By applying moderate heat and then cooling the robot, users can lock it into a specific shape. Reverting the robot to its original configuration is as simple as applying heat and releasing the liquid from the microfluidic channels.

The researchers showcased the capabilities of this technology by creating a soft robot gripper capable of picking up small objects. By manipulating hydraulic pressure and applying heat, the gripper could securely hold an object, transport it to a new location, and release it when necessary. This innovative approach opens up exciting opportunities for the development of small-scale soft robots with advanced control and manipulation capabilities.

The study detailing the development of these 3D-printed mini-actuators was published in Advanced Materials, showcasing the potential of this technology for morphing and manipulating soft robots on a microscopic scale. This research represents a significant advancement in the field of soft robotics and highlights the innovative applications that can be achieved through the integration of shape memory materials with hydraulic actuators.

Jane Austen

A tech enthusiast unraveling complex concepts. Writes on AI, cybersecurity, and software trends.