Create a free Industrial Equipment News account to continue

Engineering By Design: First Step Towards Soft-Bodied Robots Modeled After Biceps

Real-time 3D-printed sketches, bed sensors that monitor hearts, and VAMPs that mimic muscle.

Real-Time 3D-Printed Sketches

Cornell researchers have hacked an off-the-shelf Delta FDM 3D printer, added an Autodesk plug-in, and created On-the-Fly Print, an interactive prototyping system that prints your designs as you’re designing them.

Unlike traditional 3D printing which is built in layers, this new WirePrint technique extrudes a rope of quick-hardening plastic to create a wire frame. The thought is that WirePrint can speed prototyping by creating a model of the shape of an object instead of printing the entire solid.

The printer has five degrees of freedom. So while the nozzle can only work vertically, the printer's stage rotates as the model is built with an extended extruder tip or cut with a retractable cutting blade.

The designer can pause anywhere in the process to test, measure and, if necessary, make changes that will be added to the physical model still in the printer.

It’s a low-fidelity sketch, but the researchers believe the approach could improve the quality of the design process by allowing designers to redraw as a project develops.  


Sensors Catch Health Warning Signs

Researchers at the University of Missouri have been using motion-capture technology to help older adults "age in place" for more than 10 years. Which is nice, because it helps you safely live a more independent life as you grow old.

Previous work hacked video game systems and used web-cams to detect health changes. But two new studies show how radar can monitor walking speed and how bed sensors can measure heart health to help catch early warning signs.

Both technologies are non-invasive, and don't even require a wearable. The radar monitors walking speed to see if Grandpa has a fall risk; and the bed sensors provide data on his heart rate, respiration rate, and overall cardiac activity while he sleeps.

The bed sensors are made using a hydraulic transducer, which is a flexible tube of water. The transducer measures the mechanical effect of the blood flowing through the body as a result of the heart beating. By placing four hydraulic transducers under a mattress, researchers were able to capture cardiac data.

The team is now looking for new ways to use sensor tech to improve very early detection of health changes so that health problems can be addressed while they are still small and manageable.


Touch My Robo-Dermis

New work in the robotics industry has already led to collaborative robots that use new sensor technology to make it safer for humans to work around them. The only issue is their hard plastic enclosure, which I'll arbitrarily refer to as a robo-dermis, limits robots to industrial settings.

But a new actuator developed by a team a Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is softer, safer, and it could be the next step towards soft-bodied robots. 

The researchers have created VAMPs, which stands for vacuum-actuated muscle-inspired pneumatic structure. VAMPs are modeled after the human bicep and use vacuum power to automate soft rubber beams. Previous soft actuators rely on pressurized systems that expand in volume, but VAMPs' design mimics true muscle because they contract.

The actuator is filled with small, hollow chambers of air like a honeycomb. By applying vacuum, the chambers collapse and the entire actuator contracts, generating movement. The internal honeycomb structure can even be custom tailored to enable linear, twisting, bending, or a combination of motions.

The teams sees a future with robots that are better equipped to assist the diabled or elderly, or even make industrial robots safer.

More in Product Development