Soft inflatable robots have gained attention for their safety and adaptability, but integrating sensing and control systems into these robots has been challenging without compromising their softness and capabilities. Addressing this challenge, a research team at UNIST has developed innovative “soft valve” technology that integrates sensors and control valves while maintaining complete softness.
Traditionally, soft robot bodies relied on rigid electronic components for sensing purposes. However, the research team introduced a novel approach by creating soft analogs of sensors and control valves that operate without electricity. The resulting tube-shaped part serves dual functions of detecting external stimuli and controlling driving motion using only air pressure.
By eliminating the need for electricity-dependent components, these all-soft valves enable safe operation underwater or in environments where sparks may pose risks. Additionally, they reduce weight burdens on robotic systems and are cost-effective.
The research team showcased various applications utilizing this technology. They created universal tongs capable of delicately picking up fragile items and developed wearable elbow assist robots that reduce muscle burden in repetitive or strenuous activities involving arm movements.
The soft valve operates by utilizing air flow within a tube-shaped structure. When tension is applied, a thread inside compresses the tube, controlling the inflow and outflow of air. This motion allows for precise and flexible movements without relying on electrical power.
The research team also discovered that they can program different structures or numbers of threads within the tube to accurately control airflow variations. This programmability enables customized adjustments for specific situations and requirements.
The integration of sensors and control valves in soft robots using soft valve technology opens up new possibilities for safe and adaptable robotic systems. It eliminates the need for rigid components while maintaining softness and flexibility. This breakthrough has the potential to revolutionize the field of soft robotics.
– UNIST (Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology) – [source]
– Professor Jiyun Kim – Department of New Material Engineering, UNIST
– Professor Jonbum Bae – Department of Mechanical Engineering, UNIST