University of New South Wales, Australia
Lab webpage: https://medicalrobotics-lab.com/
The advent of soft robots has solved many issues posed by their rigid counterparts, including safer interactions with humans and the capability to work in narrow and complex environments. While much work has been devoted to developing soft actuators and bioinspired mechatronic systems, comparatively little has been done to improve the methods of actuation. Hydraulically soft actuators (HSAs) are emerging candidates to control soft robots due to their fast responses, low noise, and low hysteresis compared to compressible pneumatic ones. Despite advances, current hydraulic sources for large HSAs are still bulky and require high power availability to drive the pumping plant. To overcome these challenges, this work presents a new bioinspired soft and high aspect ratio pumping element (Bio-SHARPE) for use in soft robotic and medical applications. This new soft pumping element can amplify its input volume to at least 8.6 times with a peak pressure of at least 40 kPa. The element can be integrated into existing hydraulic pumping systems like a hydraulic gearbox. Naturally, an amplification of fluid volume can only come at the sacrifice of pumping pressure, which was observed as a 19.1:1 reduction from input to output pressure. The new concept enables a large soft robotic body to be actuated by smaller fluid reservoirs and pumping plant, potentially reducing their power and weight, and thus facilitating drive source miniaturization. The high amplification ratio also makes soft robotic systems more applicable for human-centric applications such as rehabilitation aids, bioinspired untethered soft robots, medical devices, and soft artificial organs. Details of the fabrication and experimental characterization of the Bio-SHARPE and its associated components are given. A soft robotic squid and an artificial heart ventricle are introduced and experimentally validated.