Soft robots refer to such robots that have been developed by using material that is highly compliant. It has been noted that in certain situations, such robots are better than traditional robots. This is because when it comes to interacting with humans or other living things, the inherent softness that is built into the structure of the robots is safer in comparison to metals. They are also better for the situation in which there is a need to interact with an unstable or uncertain environment. In such cases, robots directly deform to the object instead of crashing.
A Researcher has recently created a soft robot that is inspired by the brittle star (the type of starfish that is quick and agile). The robot has been named PATRICK, which is the first mobile and untethered underwater crawling soft robot. This is an interesting development in the Soft Robotics Market as the new robot has the ability to crawl along the sea bed. Its limbs are made up of rubber, and it can easily deform as per uncertainty present in the environment.
The robot, PATRICK, has limbs that are made up of beams of rubber and are studded with four coiled wires. These wires have been made out of a metal referred to as SMA (Shape Memory Alloy). The metal is specifically nickel-titanium composition. To make the alloy, it was made to go through phase change with a change in temperature. It goes through a phase change after it passes through the specific temperature threshold and morphs back into the remembered shape. The robot is quite flexible, which means it contains deformable properties; thus, it adapts itself to room temperature as well. The robot was hit with electric currents. This resulted in the wires heating up past their transition temperature. With this method, its limbs contracted and moved in different directions making the robot move.
The main objective behind this project was to make an untethered robot that is not connected to a wire, making it attached to any off-board power and electronics. That is not an easy thing to achieve as it requires an entirely different design in building the robot. The researcher involved in the project also developed an electronic and computational infrastructure for the robot that is typically done for traditional robots. It is a unique initiative because, in soft robotics, developers are focused solely on the robot's physical design and on the demonstration of its functionality. They, as standard practice, do not invest resources in building up a computational infrastructure around the robot they have designed.
This research will help in the exploration of control theory and control algorithms in the sector of soft robotics. The present robot is expected by its maker to contribute in comparative studies with real-life brittle stars so that a feedback loop of information can be created to understand brittle stars further.
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