Innovative Soft Actuator with greater dexterity, precision and durability

Researchers at the University of Dundee have developed a range of novel soft actuators with the potential to enable new kinds of soft robots for industrial use.

→ Range of novel soft actuators
→ Enchanced dexterity, improved precision greater durability
→ Simple fabrication methods
→ Potential to enable new types of soft robotics

Background

The soft robotics market has been described as being “the next industrial revolution”1 set to have a major impact on all aspects of our society and industries, ranging from manufacturing and consumer devices to medical applications and wearable technology.

International Data Corporation2 predicts that worldwide spending on robotics and related services will hit $135.4 billion in 2019. The two fastest growing industries for robotics are healthcare and process manufacturing. In the specific area of soft robotics, growth has been recent and rapid - reports predict Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 27.2%, for the period 2018- 2022. Industry is looking to soft robotics as a new and exciting set of technologies because of its major advantages - soft robots allow high adaptability and flexibility for accomplishing tasks, as well as improved safety when working with humans in manufacturing units. This new area will unlock robotic automation for large, meaningful markets and labour starved industries such as: food processing, agile manufacturing, e-commerce, and pick and place. It is also predicted to provide major advances in: medical devices, care, the military and healthcare.

Currently, only a few companies have fully commercialised soft robotics technology, as significant technical challenges exist such as dexterity, durability and precision. Continued innovation is required in this area to fully realise the potential for industry.

The Opportunity

A research team at the University of Dundee have developed a range of novel soft actuators with enhanced dexterity, improved precision, and greater durability than currently available technologies. Along with simple fabrication methods and wider design options, the technologies have the potential to enable new kinds of soft robots. 

1.  Hollow soft pneumatic actuator

A novel soft actuator combining flexibility and dexterity in four degrees of freedom (DOF) has been developed and performance tested in terms of range of motion versus pressure. The actuator demonstrated excellent dexterity along each DOF with low input pressure of less than 32.4 kPa (see full results below).

The design, incorporating a hollow central part, enables cabling of the actuation tubes and embedding of an electronic board to allow for more complex tasks. A modular version could also be built with a view to developing a complex manipulator such as a robotic arm. The manufacturing process involved is simple which enables miniaturisation of the actuator and control components are available off the shelf. The dexterity of movement along with miniaturisation opens up applications in various medical devices.

2.  Novel soft actuator with increased flexibility, dexterity and precision
 
A second technology has been developed with both pneumatic and mechanical control mechanisms with significantly increased precision along with enhanced dexterity and flexibility. The soft actuator has variable resistance to movement (or stiffness), which allows for rapid low precision movements or slower high precision movements depending on the application. The design prevents the well-known “ballooning” and durability issues associated with soft pneumatic actuators, which is currently one of the major challenges in the field. The prototype performed well in tests with variable stiffness of 123-539% and low air activation pressure.

Commercial Opportunity

The University is seeking a commercial partner for this technology and contact is welcomed from organisations interested in developing, licensing or exploiting this opportunity.

Download PDF: Innovative Soft Actuator with greater dexterity, precision and durability

IP Status: The technologies are protected by patent applications – one published on 24.10.2017 as WO2018078347 and one filed on 25.08.2017 as GB 1713725.8

For further information, please contact:

research@dundee.ac.uk