[Feature Story- Robotics] Soft-robotic Arm Capable of Shape Changing

by Pei-Hsuan Lai

Technology in robotic arm has a long history, and it has been applied in industries such as automobile manufacturing as early as in 1980s. Among all automated mechanical device in such category, robotic arms are the most widely used.

3D sensing robotic arm for needle-less autonomous vaccine injection

Cobionix, a Canadian company founded by the University of Waterloo, has developed an autonomous robot for intramuscular injection without needles. The robot is equipped with a 3D sensor to perform position tracking of patients and construct a 3D digital map of the patient’s body using light detection and ranging (LiDAR). The best injection point is identified using AI analysis, before an intramuscular injection is performed through a high-pressure liquid.

Patients simply have to approach the robot and show their ID to the camera on a touch screen connected to the robot for ID verification. After that, the robot will perform injection on the predetermined spot.

Artificial muscles robotic arm that can lift a dumbbell weighing 7 kilograms

Automaton Robotics, a Polish company, developed a robotic arm with synthetic muscle and soft tissues, with muscles and bones powered mainly by electricity and water. There have been a series of videos released on the company’s YouTube channel, regarding the development of such technology, and they are currently working on testing neural interfaces.

In their latest video, an arm weighing only 1 kg can lift a dumbbell weighing about 7 kg. The developing engineer pointed out that the arm currently has half the muscles that a biological arm has, and each muscle consists of a purpose-built McKibben muscle, or pneumatic artificial muscles, which use either air or hydraulic fluid to fill a bladder. They are even portable power supply and valves for the arm to contract and relax at will, which is software-implemented.

Fluid mechanics for soft-robotic arms in various forms

The Princeton University research team has invented bubble casting, a way to make soft robots. Bubble casting features fluid mechanics, as a liquid polymer cures to become a rubbery and elastic material. It is then injected into a mold, before air is injected inside, to create a long bubble throughout the mold, much like fancy balloons in all kinds of shapes. The bubble can change shape in different ways when inflated with air, bending and moving according to needs.

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