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3D printed pneumatic modules replace electric controls in soft robotics.


Newswise — In the future, software robots will be able to perform tasks that cannot be performed by conventional robots. These soft robots could be used in difficult-to-access terrain and in environments where they are exposed to chemicals or radiation that would harm electronically controlled metal robots. This requires these soft robots to be controllable without any electronics, which remains a development challenge. A research team from the University of Friborg has developed 3D printed pneumatic logic modules that control the movements of soft robots using only air pressure. These modules allow logical switching of the air flow and can thus imitate an electrical control. The modules make it possible for the first time to produce flexible, electronics-free soft robots entirely in a 3D printer using conventional filament printing material. The team led by Dr. Stéphane ConradDr. Falk Tauber, Joscha Teichmann and Prof. Dr. Thomas Speck of the center of excellence “Living, adaptive and energy autonomous materials systems (liveMatS) » published his results in the famous journal Scientific robotics.

“Our design allows anyone with 3D printing experience to produce such logic modules and use them to control a software robot without the need for high-end printing equipment,” says Conrad. “This marks an important step toward completely electronics-free pneumatic control circuits that can replace increasingly complex electrical components in software robots in the future.”

The modules can perform Boolean operations and direct the airflow to the movement elements in a targeted manner.

The modules consist of two pressurized chambers. A 3D printed channel runs between these chambers. By compressing the channel, the expansion chambers can stop the air flow and regulate it like a valve. By opening and closing the valve in a targeted manner, the modules can execute the Boolean logic functions “AND”, “OR” and “NO” in the same way as electrical circuits and direct the air flow to the movement elements of the software robot. . The function performed by each module is determined by the chambers in which air pressure is applied. Depending on the material chosen, the modules can operate with a pressure of between 80 and more than 750 kilopascals. Compared to other pneumatic systems, they have a fast response time of around 100 milliseconds.

Wide range of applications

“The potential applications of these modules are enormous. We developed a flexible robotic walker 3D printed and controlled by an integrated circuit using air pressure. The flexibility of the logic modules is demonstrated by the fact that this walker can even support the load of a car driving on it,” explains Tauber. “As an example of more complex control systems, we have also developed a beverage dispenser without electronics. »

About the center of excellence liveCarpet

The vision of the center of excellence for living, adaptive and energy-autonomous material systems (livMatS) is to combine the best of both worlds: nature and technology. livMatS develops realistic material systems inspired by nature. These systems autonomously adapt to their environment, harvest clean energy from their surroundings, and are either unaffected or capable of recovering from it.

  • Original publication: Conrad et al., Sci. Robot. 9, EADH4060 (2024). do I: 10.1126/scirobotique.adh4060
  • Dr. Stéphane Conrad completed his doctorate within the Plant Biomechanics Group and at liveMatS cluster of excellence at the University of Fribourg.
  • Dr. Falk Tauber is project manager at liveMatS center of excellence and co-coordinator of the “Demonstrators” research area. He is an independent group leader in the plant biomechanics group at the University of Fribourg.
  • Joscha Teichmann completed his doctorate within the Plant Biomechanics Group and the liveMatS cluster of excellence at the University of Fribourg.
  • Teacher. Thomas Speck is full professor of botany: functional morphology and biomimetics and director of the Botanical Garden of the University of Friborg since 2001. He heads the plant biomechanics group there and is a member of the spokesperson team of the liveMatS cluster of excellence at the University of Fribourg.
  • The study was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) (liveCarpet – EXC 2193).


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