Robotic Skins Can Animate Regular Objects and Actuate Unpredictable Space Missions

Robotic Skins Can Animate Regular Objects and Actuate Unpredictable Space Missions

Research published in the journal ‘Science Robotics’ states how robotic skins can turn inanimate objects to robots. The robotic skins are elastic sheets embedded with sensors which can be used over a surface of any objects to perform different tasks.

Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science in Yale University developed the new robotic skin technology in partnership with NASA. Although the skins were designed without assigning a specific task, they can be wrapped around an object to perform a task, then take them off and put on another object to perform different task. Kramer-Bottiglio said, the robotic skins could be used for everything to build grippers, in wearable technologies, and even in search-and-rescue robots.

The idea of robotic skins came up to Kramer-Bottiglio a few years ago when NASA put out a call for soft robotic system. To demonstrate performance of the skins, a handful of prototypes were created by the researchers which include a gripper device which can grasp and move objects, foam cylinders that move like an inchworm, and a wearable device that allows to correct poor posture.

Multifunctional and reusable nature of the robotic skins would allow astronauts to perform an array of tasks with the same material which is important in deep space exploration where the environment is uncertain, she said. It is further mentioned that the skins allow users to turn everyday objects into robots with the use of settings which weren’t even considered at the time of designing.

Christopher Atkeson, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh said that the robotic skin technology is an interesting approach and could come in handy for search-and-rescue operations. For space missions where the astronauts are uncertain about the kind of robotic helpers they will need, robotic skins would be advantageous.

Each layer of the robotic skin comprises elastic fabric or polymer which are embedded with air pouches. These air pouches can inflate when blown up with gas or nickel titanium coils and contract by heating with electric current. They allow the robotic skins to move and take shape of the applied objects. For complex movements, more than one skin can be used at a time. Multiple layer of the skin can offer combined mode of actuation such as simultaneous compression and bending.

National Science Foundation, recently awarded Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio with $2 million grant. She said that the lab will be working on enhancing the skins and explore the possibilities of 3-D printing the components.

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Rahul Pandita

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