Soft robots currently rely on additional hardware such as pumps, high voltage supplies,light generation sources, and magnetic field generators for their operation. These components
resist miniaturization; thus, embedding them into small-scale soft robots is challenging.
This issue limits their applications, especially in hyper-redundant mobile robots. This
dissertation aims at addressing some of the challenges associated with creating miniature,
untethered soft robots that can function without any attachment to external power supplies
or receiving any control signals from outside sources. This goal is accomplished by introducing
a soft active material and a manufacturing method that together, facilitate the
miniaturization of soft robots and effectively supports their autonomous, mobile operation
without any connection to outside equipment or human intervention.
The soft active material presented here is a hydrogel based on a polymer called poly(Nisopropylacrylamide)
(PNIPAAm). This hydrogel responds to changes in the temperature
and responds by expanding or contracting. A major challenge regarding PNIPAAm-based
hydrogels is their slow response. This challenge is addressed by introducing a mixedsolvent
photo-polymerization technique that alters the pore structure of the hydrogel and
facilitates the water transport and thus the rate of volume change. Using this technique,
the re-swelling response time of hydrogels is reduced to 2:4min – over 25 times faster
than hydrogels demonstrated previously. The material properties of hydrogels including
their response rate and Young’s modulus are tuned simultaneously. The one-step photopolymerization
using UV light is performed in under 15 sec, which is a significant improvement
over thermo-polymerization, which takes anywhere between a few minutes to
several hours. Photopolymerization is key towards simplifying recipes, improving access
to these techniques, and making them tractable for iterative design processes.
To address the manufacturing challenges, soft voxel actuators (SVAs) are presented.
SVAs are actuated by electrical currents through Joule heating. SVAs weighing only 100 mg require small footprint microcontrollers for their operation which can be embedded
in the robotic system. The advantages of hydrogel-based SVAs are demonstrated through
different robotic platforms namely a hyper-redundant manipulator with 16 SVAs, an untethered
miniature robot for mobile underwater applications using 8 SVAs, and a gripper
using 32 SVAs.
Included in this item (7)
- Partial requirement for: Ph.D., Arizona State University, 2021
- Field of study: Engineering