Today, soft robotics offer smart components and materials designed to optimize the flexibility and mobility of machines. From a formal point of view, the technology presented in this article functions as a geodesic structure. This geometric model gives it the flexibility to turn any inanimate object into a robot.
It is a robotic skin made by a laboratory research team under Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Yale University (Connecticut). The skin was named OminiSkins. Researchers at the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, Indiana, were also involved in the design of the skin.
OminiSkins – Uses and Applications
Initially, the technology was designed in order to participate in a NASA contest. The agency needs multifunctional and autonomous materials for its space missions, but creating robots that meet all the operational needs in various hostile environments is expensive. The team’s proposed solution is a component that provides any inanimate object with the ability to move. The project submitted to the Agency is entitled “Active Elastic Skins for Soft Robotics.” The prototype created by Kramer-Bottiglio’s team in collaboration with NASA can transform any volume into a useful object for astronauts, such as a robotic arm or a transport device capable of surveying difficult terrain.
While robots are usually designed to meet specific goals, according to Kramer-Bottiglio, this technology could quickly create adaptable and multifunctional machines in any context. The skin has multiple applications because it can perform very complex movements. To test this technology, the team created several prototypes. They showed that the skin can make an object with multiple limbs crawl or “walk”. It can also be used to create smart clothes. In this last phase of the study, researchers tested a device that can correct a person’s posture. Wearable elements created from the robotic skin are connected to an application that receives information on back posture and returns control signals to the wearable elements to correct the position.
OminiSkins – Structure and Components
The robotic skin is made of an elastic fabric equipped with sensors and motion actuators. It can wrap around any articulated or flexible shape to make it mobile. It can give an object different mobility and movement capabilities. Transformed into a robot, it can perform specific tasks depending on the shape of the skin. The technology is in fact compact, reconfigurable, easy to transport, and inexpensive.
Using a light sensor, an object wearing the skin can move towards a light source, as shown in the following video:
Robotic fingers made of skin fitted with a motion sensor can catch and hold an object:
The skin has a modular structure. Parts can be added depending on desired shapes and movements. The designed model allows combined modes of operation like a motion that combines compression and bending. Indeed, by combining several layers of the skin, complex movements can be produced.
For this research, Kramer-Bottiglio recently received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, as part of the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program. The study that led to the model described here is entitled “OmniSkins: Robotic skins that turn inanimate objects into multifunctional robots.” Co-authored by Joran W. Booth, Dylan Shah, Jennifer C. Case, Edward L. White, Michelle C. Yuen, Olivier Cyr-Choiniere1 and Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, it was published on Wednesday, September 19, 2018, in Science Robotics.