Super-Releaser Robotics

Soft robots for hard problems

Super-Releaser is a soft robotics design and engineering company. We develop compliant mechanisms, soft robotic systems, and Super-Releaser is a soft robotics design and engineering company. We develop compliant mechanisms, soft robotic systems, and methods for manufacturing soft robots at industrial scales. for manufacturing soft robots at industrial scales.

Super-Releaser at World Maker Faire

Last weekend, Super-Releaser had the great opportunity to speak at World Maker Faire 2016 in New York City. Our lead scientist Matt Borgatti and soft goods engineer Kari Love spoke on Sunday at the Maker-to-Market stage.

During the presentation, they talked about the field of soft robotics, Super-Releaser's own research, and how publishing open-source can drastically aid the development of emerging fields. They also discussed how individuals and makers can contribute to the emerging field of soft robotics, by following online tutorials, contributing to the NASA Tensegrity Robotics Toolkit, or a variety of other means. Overall, the experience was great exposure for Super-Releaser, and given the response from the audience, people seemed quite interested in our work.

We would like to thank Maker Faire for providing Super-Releaser with the chance to speak this year and special thanks to everyone who came to listen to the presentation!

3D Printed Metamaterial Mechanisms

Lately, the soft robotics field has been seeing more and more that many normally rigid structures and systems (with hard parts like bearings, hinges, levers, etc) can be replaced by compliant mechanisms that provide the same result. A great example is Super-Releaser's own Glaucus robot. While there are many "hard" robotic quadrupeds that can walk, the Glaucus walks while being completely made of super-soft silicone. Compliant mechanisms can have many advantages, however the difficulty comes when designing such a mechanism that will provide the desired feedback consistently and reliably. Researchers Alexandra Ion, Johannes Frohnhofen, Ludwig Wall, Robert Kovacs, Mirela Alistar, Jack Lindsay, Pedro Lopes, Hsiang-Ting Chen, and Patrick Baudisch at the Hasso Plattner Institute have published a new research paper regarding a powerful solution to this problem.

The researchers developed a virtual 3D editor that can generate metamaterial machines for FFF 3D printing. Metamaterials are systems that show novel behavior based on their structure. In this case, substantial movement without normal, rigid mechanisms. The researchers' program allows for a general-purpose approach to making these metamaterial machines. The program functions by creating a 3D form and subdividing the 3D shape into cells. The researchers categorize the cells into to types: solid, rigid cells, called members and soft, more flexible cells, called hinge cells. Member cells consist of boxes with intersecting lines, while hinge cells consist of a variety of shapes that allow for differing ranges of motion. Both cell types can be manipulated to have different elastic properties (e.g. more stiffness or more flexibility). By designating certain parts to be certain cells and by inputing how stress will be applied to the machine, the program will turn the 3D model into a 3D printable metamaterial mechanism.

Additionally, the program has the ability to simulate how the finished metamaterial system will act and the capability to create systems with hinge cells on different axis, allowing for the creation of mechanisms with many degrees of freedom.

According to the researchers, metamaterial mechanisms have numerous advantages over traditional multi-part, multi-material mechanisms. These advantages range from ease of fabrication and assembly to extended lifespan due to there being no friction on any part of the system to wear it down. They do admit that there are limitations to this technology, for example, that these mechanisms are not well suited for small forces and are limited in complexity by the tools being used to manufacture them. As a result of this paper, the researchers believe that we should think of metamaterials less as materials and more as machines. Following this research, they plan to investigate metamaterial mechanisms for embedded mechanical logic.

As mentioned previously, this work is quite analogous to soft robotics, in that it is replacing normally stiff and complex mechanisms with soft and simple ones. As a soft robotics company, Super-Releaser is quite interested in this topic. I personally see a tremendous amount of potential in the patterns used in cells in this research. By only manipulating geometry, further motion could be created for metamaterial mechanisms, such as extension, twisting, or even retraction. Overall, we are excited to see this research and cannot wait to see where it leads.

By Aidan Leitch

Autonomous and Fully Soft Robotic Octopus

The octopus is a fascinating creature. Without bones or any hard structures, it can accomplish amazing feats such as squeezing through spaces that are a fraction of their own size. Although soft robotics primarily is the engineering of robots with soft and compliant mechanisms and parts, the community has yet to see a robot that is like the octopus; completely soft, down to the means by which it is controlled. That is, until now. Robert Wood Ph.D. and Jennifer Lewis Sc.D. led research at the Harvard Wyss Institute that resulted in their paper, An integrated design and fabrication strategy for entirely soft, autonomous robots. The paper describes the process used to create an autonomous, untethered, entirely soft robot octopus, dubbed the Octobot.

Most autonomous and untethered pneumatic soft robots have been powered by electrical control systems that are composed of boards, pumps, valves, batteries, and more - all components that have hard elements. The Octobot is a pneumatic robot, yet uses none of these. The Octobot is controlled by a fluidic logic circuit that can alternate what parts of the robot are inflated based on the small fluid-based logic gates found in the robot's "head" (technically the mantle of an actual octopus). When the circuit switches, one of the fuel tanks at the back of the robot will let hydrogen peroxide pass through a platinum catalyst. The catalyst causes the hydrogen peroxide to break down rapidly, transforming into a gas and inflating certain tentacles. The tentacles are curled upwards by default, but bend downwards when inflated. Then the gas slowly deflates out of small vents in the front of the robot. When the circuit switches again, the other fuel cell powers a different set of tentacles in the same way. This cycle repeats itself until the fuel cells run out of hydrogen peroxide.

The Octobot is fabricated with three manufacturing techniques: soft lithography, casting, and 3D printing. First, a mold is made. Then the tentacles and fuel cell matrix are cast with a silicone material. The logic circuit is made with soft lithography and then placed inside of the mold. After that, the rest of the mold is cast. Then, an EMB3D 3D printing system prints all the traces and inflationary elements in a special ink. The mold (and everything in it) sits in an oven for four days, during which the ink has drains out of the robot, leaving empty space, and the silicone solidifies. Once demolded, the fuel chambers are filled through ports on the circuit and movement begins!

This research is quite valuable for a number of reasons. For example, autonomous soft robots can be used for applications like disaster relief and surgery. However, even a few hard parts can make such robots unusable for these high risk use-cases. With an entirely compliant robot, this problem is eliminated. I also see such robots being useful in applications such as hazardous material cleanup, in which electro-mechanical systems cannot be used due to the risk of a spark causing ignition. A robot entirely controlled by gas and liquid would have no such problem. Here at Super-Releaser, we find this kind of work extremely interesting and important, as topics such as untethered soft robots and new methods of pneumatic inflation can help advance the field of soft robotics tremendously.

-Aidan Leitch