The researchers at the Singapore Technology and Design University have combined two different approaches to create an integrated workflow to develop new automated processes to design and manufacture custom soft robots. The method that developed the equipment can be applied to other types of soft robots that allow mechanical properties to be adapted easily and accessible. Soft robots are a large area of study around the world because soft robots are particularly good for working in environments with humans and are more flexible.
The soft robots are inspired by the flexible ways of living organisms and have extensive applications to detect, movement, grip object and handling, and more. Typically, soft robots are manufactured using manual casting techniques, which limits complexity and geometries that researchers can achieve. For the new robot, the equipment used the manufacture of 3D printing or additives to extrude several inks of material in a support matrix.
The process is particularly suitable for manufacturing soft robots made of multiple materials or compounds. The team used topology optimization to ensure that its soft robots are designed optimally using mathematical models to design tailor-made structures within a specific set of restrictions. The optimization of the two steps in a single framework allows the authors to develop an integrated workflow to create personalized soft robots while minimizing potential errors.
In his study, the team used an autonomous swimming robot inspired by Batoides. The workflow began by defining the robot’s fin geometry before the topology optimization was used to generate the design structure with the desired properties within the restrictions of prescribed material and movement. The design was transformed into a code read by the personalized manufacturing 3D printer that manufactures the robot.
The soft robots were designed to survive a marine environment, and the approach focused on adapting the composition of the fin to evaluate how the changes can affect the performance of the swimming of the robots. Researchers found after optimization that optimized composite fins were 50 percent faster than a counterpart with soft fins traditionally filled. It was also a little faster than a robot with a hard fin.