Towards an Integrated Approach to Soft Robot Design
Soft robotic systems rely on highly deformable materials to achieve functionality. While this deformability enables unique capabilities, it also presents new challenges not found in traditional robotic systems. In a traditional robot, motion is concentrated at discrete joints; in a soft robot, deformations are distributed throughout the body. In order to control these deformations, they must be observed. Making these observations requires the development and integration of sensors which are mechanically and materially compatible with the body they are sensing. The coupling of deformation degrees of freedom within a soft body results in complex motions which are best described and controlled with parallel kinematics formulations, which in turn drives the design of sensors and actuators. The work presented in this thesis is comprised of three related research areas. First, I investigated the process of fabricating thick elastomer films using multi-layer spin coating and rod coating. Second, I demonstrated the use of conductive elastomer composites to create capacitive strain sensors for highly deformable systems. Finally, I integrated soft sensors with soft actuators to control the deformation of an elastomer body. In this last part of the work, I used six sensor and actuator pairs to achieve full motion control of a deformable body using a parallel kinematics configuration. Together, these advances provide tools which can be used to develop more advanced soft robotic systems with closed-loop deformation control.
Kramer, Purdue University.
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