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Parallel Helix Actuators for Soft Robotic Applications

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  • J Chandler
  • M Chauhan
  • N Garbin
  • KL Obstein
  • P Valdastri


Publication details

JournalFrontiers in Robotics and AI
DatePublished - 30 Sep 2020
Issue number119
Original languageEnglish


Fabrication of soft pneumatic bending actuators typically involves multiple steps to accommodate the formation of complex internal geometry and the alignment and bonding between soft and inextensible materials. The complexity of these processes intensifies when applied to multi-chamber and small-scale (~10 mm diameter) designs, resulting in poor repeatability. Designs regularly rely on combining multiple prefabricated single chamber actuators or are limited to simple (fixed cross-section) internal chamber geometry, which can result in excessive ballooning and reduced bending efficiency, compelling the addition of constraining materials. In this work, we address existing limitations by presenting a single material molding technique that uses parallel cores with helical features. We demonstrate that through specific orientation and alignment of these internal structures, small diameter actuators may be fabricated with complex internal geometry in a single material—without- additional design-critical steps. The helix design produces wall profiles that restrict radial expansion while allowing compact designs through chamber interlocking, and simplified demolding. We present and evaluate three-chambered designs with varied helical features, demonstrating appreciable bending angles (>180°), three-dimensional workspace coverage, and three-times bodyweight carrying capability. Through application and validation of the constant curvature assumption, forward kinematic models are presented for the actuator and calibrated to account for chamber-specific bending characteristics, resulting in a mean model tip error of 4.1 mm. This simple and inexpensive fabrication technique has potential to be scaled in size and chamber numbers, allowing for application-specific designs for soft, high-mobility actuators especially for surgical, or locomotion applications.

Bibliographical note

© 2020 Chandler, Chauhan, Garbin, Obstein and Valdastri.

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