Soft inflatable robots are becoming popular for their safety and adaptability. However, integrating sensors and control systems into these robots has been difficult without sacrificing their softness and capabilities. To address this problem, a research team has developed a groundbreaking “soft valve” technology that combines sensors and control valves while maintaining softness.
Traditionally, soft robots used rigid electronic components for sensing. This research team has created soft analogs of sensors and control valves that work without electricity. These tube-shaped components can detect external stimuli and control motion using only air pressure. By removing the need for electricity, these valves make robots safer to use underwater or in environments where sparks may be dangerous. They also reduce the weight of the robot. Each component is inexpensive.
The team demonstrated various applications of this technology. They created tongs that can delicately pick up fragile objects without breaking them. They also developed wearable robots to support the elbow during repetitive or strenuous tasks. The elbow support adjusts based on the arm’s angle, reducing the force exerted on the elbow.
The soft valve works by controlling airflow in a tube-shaped structure. The team can program different structures or numbers of threads to control the airflow accurately. This programmability allows for customized adjustments in different situations.
This development eliminates the need for electronic devices in robots. It is a significant step towards fully soft, electronics-free robots that can operate autonomously. This technology enhances safety and adaptability in various industries.
The research was supported by organizations including Korea’s National Research Foundation, Korea Institute of Materials Science, and Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technology.
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