Super-Releaser performs work for clients as a research, design, and development company, but we also work on our own projects in-house. They range from experiments to understand interesting materials, skill shares, design-for-manufacturing experiments, and projects for our upcoming book: MAKE Soft Robots. We often use scientific processes and performing quick benchtop experiments to validate concepts in our client work, but until recently we hadn’t used the process in the development of our simple gripper design (which will be one of the projects in the book). It became important to us to put our money where our mouth is, and evaluate the gripper design iterations head to head.
We started talking with Angela Burden while developing a proposal for NIAC (NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts), as her data analysis background and experience on space related questions seemed like a natural fit for building a strong interdisciplinary team. Angela is a postdoctoral research associate at Yale. She has a PhD in physics/cosmology and specializes in the statistical analysis of data from spectroscopic galaxy surveys to gain insights into the nature of dark energy. While her primary field of research is cosmology she has also written scripts for analyzing neuroscience data sets (a natural fit for the bioinspired space of soft robotics).
She has a desire to bring the benefits of data analysis to applied science outside of academia. To that end, offered her expertise on an independent project to characterize our gripper actuator design. We are excited to find the right venue to share her study and conclusions.
The gripper actuators all follow a similar design pattern: using inflating bellows to drive an asymmetric stretch in the material, a popular approach in the field of soft grippers. Some of the actuators are reinforced with a cloth to restrict one side from bending, others created the restriction with additional silicone on one side of the actuator. They were all designed to be cast in one piece from 3d printed molds. The goal was to have something that was easy to reproduce, effective, and a good demonstration of some interesting design features of soft robots.
Although the different takes on this concept were iterations balancing the various goals of the whole project, they didn’t have well defined properties and performance characteristics. Over the course of Angela’s research project, she evaluated them on several different aspects of their performance including deformation, force generated, initial and final volume, and leak rates. We will use the resulting data to inform further designs, both for grippers and our other categories of soft robots.
We can’t thank Angela enough for her excellent work on this project. She independently developed testing equipment and methodologies to address the critical aspects of the grippers and their function. She provided us with information we can directly apply to improving our designs and increasing the value of what we produce for our clients.