A 3D-printed, functionally graded soft robot powered by combustion

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Science  10 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6244, pp. 161-165
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0129
  • Fig. 1 Robot design and principle of operation.

    (A) To initiate a jump, the robot inflates a subset of its legs to tilt the body in the intended jump direction. Upon combustion, the bottom hemispheroid balloons out, pushing against the ground and propelling the robot into the air. (B) The ignition sequence consists of fuel delivery, mixing, and sparking. Butane and oxygen are alternately delivered to the combustion chamber (to promote mixing). After a short delay to promote additional mixing of the fuels, the gaseous mixture is ignited, resulting in combustion. Leg inflation occurs concurrently with fuel delivery, and leg deflation begins shortly after landing. (C) Computer-aided design model of the entire robot, consisting of the main explosive actuator surrounded by three pneumatic legs. A rigid core module that contains power and control components sits atop the main body, protected by a semisoft shield.

  • Fig. 2 Material tests and simulation results.

    (A) Qualitative twisting analysis comparing 3D-printed beams that are fully flexible, half rigid and half flexible, or transition gradually from rigid to flexible. These tests were performed to gain an understanding of how these materials respond, as well as to validate the numerical values of the material properties used in simulation. (Left) Material distribution of the beams. (Middle) Beams under torsion. (Right) Simulation of beams under torsion. (B) Jumping simulation. (Left) Ground reaction force as internal gases expand. (Middle) Pressure evolution inside the robot body as internal gases expand. (Right) Deformation state of rigid top, gradient top, and flexible top robot bodies at the initial state and the point of maximum simulated gas expansion. Line thicknesses indicate material stiffness. (C) Impact simulation. In the simulation, the robot strikes the ground at 45°. This angle was chosen as a particularly extreme loading condition and because it correlated with observations from jumping experiments. (Left) Reaction forces experienced by the three robots upon striking a solid plane under simulated conditions representative of actual testing conditions. (Right) FEA results of rigid top, gradient top, and flexible top robots, compared at 50 N.

  • Fig. 3 Experimental testing results.

    (A) Frames shortly after the moment of ground contact from movie S2 (Impact Comparison). Identical testing conditions were used to analyze the difference in landing between a robot with a rigid top and one with a gradient top. Because the rigid top robot jumped higher under combustion-powered testing, the gradient top robot was dropped from the maximum height achieved by the rigid top robot for a direct comparison. (Left) The rigid top robot fractures upon impact. (Right) The gradient top robot is able to absorb the impact and survive the fall. (B) Frames from movie S2 (Jump onto Table) at various times. The robot performs a targeted jump off of an angled surface onto a table. (Left) As the robot prepares for the jump, oxygen and butane are delivered into the combustion chamber. (Middle) Upon ignition of the fuel, the robot is propelled into the air. (Right) After jumping across a gap, the robot lands on a table. (C) Frames from movie S2 (Directional Jump) at various times during a directional jump. The robot pitches backward during the jump, providing a soft landing on the inflated legs. Upon impact with the ground, the robot pitches forward and returns to its pre-jump stance.

Supplementary Materials

  • A 3D-printed, functionally graded soft robot powered by combustion

    Nicholas W. Bartlett, Michael T. Tolley, Johannes T. B. Overvelde, James C. Weaver, Bobak Mosadegh, Katia Bertoldi, George M. Whitesides, Robert J. Wood

    Materials/Methods, Supplementary Text, Tables, Figures, and/or References

    Download Supplement
    • Materials and Methods
    • Supplementary Text
    • Figs. S1 and S2
    • Table S1
    • Captions for Movies S1 and S2

    Images, Video, and Other Other Media

    Movie S1
    This movie depicts the animated simulation results, as in Fig. 2. The first sequence shows the evolution of body shape for the rigid top, gradient top, and flexible top robots as the volume of the gas inside the body expands. The second sequence compares the impact behavior of the same three cases.
    Movie S2
    This movie presents the results of experimental testing, as in Fig. 3. The first sequence compares the impact behavior of the rigid top and gradient top robots. The second sequence depicts the robot performing a targeted jump off of an angled surface, and includes high-speed video of the takeoff. The final sequence shows the robot performing a directional jump on a flat surface.

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