A team of researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Engineering Center have come up with a new class of soft devices that can be activated electronically. They can replicate the contraction and expansion of natural muscles. The devices can be made from various low-cost materials and can sense their own movements. They can also heal automatically from electrical damage.
Such devices mark a major improvement in the domain of soft robotics. Such next generation of robots do not have the conventional metallic droids. Instead, they are built from materials that are soft and are akin to biological systems. The soft robots hold out massive promise for future applications since they can align to changing environments and can interact well with humans.
How do they work?
The main challenge faced by “soft robotics” so far is the absence of “artificial muscles,” also known as actuators that can seamlessly replicate the performance and versatility of the real thing.
The newly built HASEL (hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic) actuators do away with the unwieldy, not-so-flexible motors and pistons of traditional robots. Instead they have soft structures that react to applied voltage with a wide array of motions.
Such devices can carry out wide-ranging tasks, which includes grasping delicate objects namely raw egg and raspberry. They can also lift bulky and heavy objects. HASEL actuators surpass or equal the strength, efficiency, and speed of biological muscles. This coupled with their versatility might make them an important constituent of artificial muscles in humanoid robots and futuristic prosthetic limbs.