Soft Robotics

A soft robotic system is primarily composed of materials with moduli in the range of 10 kPa-1 GPa. With continuum body architectures, these robots are able to adaptively interact with unstructured environments, achieve continuous and agile motion capabilities, and implement multiple functions with reduced complexity. These features make soft robots especially favourable for medical applications, particularly for gentle medical operations inside the difficult-to-reach body sites, as well as handling delicate objects using robotic muscles and in wearable systems, where for instance, a patient undergoing physical rehabilitation and the robot mimicking target physical motions. These soft robotic systems show the advantage of using soft materials for safe interactions and dexterity with complex and unstructured volumes and surfaces in the dynamic and non-uniform background environment.

Small-scale soft-bodied robot with multimodal locomotion. From Hu et al. Nature 554, 81–85 (2018)

ECMs function under similarly dynamic and non-uniform conditions. They endure complex physical forces, adapt to various changes in the environment, suffer defects, and self-repair to alleviate physical damages. ECM-based materials having comparable moduli range useful for soft robots has therefore high potential to be a key enabler, because the functional capabilities of soft robots arise mostly from the physical (or embodied) design of the fabric and the material properties. Understanding material properties and design principles of multiscale hierarchical organization of ECM materials will inspire new design and engineering strategies to leverage the functional diversity and the mechanical performance of soft robots.

Images of the team and laboratories at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPIIS) in Germany.

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