Bioinspired 3D Printable Soft Vacuum Actuators for Locomotion Robots, Grippers and Artificial Muscles
Continued technological progress in robotic systems has led to more applications where robots and humans operate in close proximity and even physical contact in some cases. Soft robots, which are made of highly compliant and deformable materials, provide inherent safety features unlike conventional robots that are made of stiff and rigid components. Soft robotics is a rapidly developing field exploiting biomimetic design principles, novel sensor and actuation concepts, and advanced manufacturing techniques. In this study, we propose novel 3D printable soft vacuum actuators that are inspired by the sporangium of fern trees. These actuators that are directly manufactured using commercial and affordable fused deposition modeling 3D printers offer many advantages such as high actuation speed (5.54 Hz), long lifetime (123,000 cycles), large payload to weight ratio (∼26), and significant output forces (∼16 N). The behavior of these actuators is accurately predicted, and their performance is optimized using finite element modeling. Furthermore, diverse robotic applications such as locomotion robots (a walking robot moving with an average forward speed of vf = 3.54 cm/s, and a hopping robot called Gongaroo hopping with an average speed of vf = 3.75 cm/s), grippers, and artificial muscles have been established and activated using the new soft actuation concept. Finally, to demonstrate the modularity of the proposed actuation concept, soft actuators with multiple degrees of freedom and variable length are established using a series of 3D printable vacuum hinges.