A soft actuator using electrically controllable membranes could pave the way for machines that are no danger to humans

The actuator works with hyperelastic membranes that surround air-filled chambers. The volume of the chambers can be controlled by means of an electric field at the membrane. To date, elastic actuators that exert a force by stretching air-filled chambers have always required connection to pumps and compressors to work. A soft actuator such as the one developed by the Stuttgart-based team means that such bulky payloads or tethers may now be superfluous.

Soft robot actuator using electrically controllable membranes
Max Planck’s soft robot actuator using electrically controllable membranes (Credit: Alejandro Posada)

Many robots have become indispensable, and it is accepted that they may be dangerous to humans in their workspace. In the automotive industry, for example, they assemble cars with speed and reliability, but are well shielded from direct contact with humans. These robots go through their motions precisely and relentlessly, and anyone who gets in the way could be seriously injured. Robots with soft actuators that cannot harm humans, on the other hand, are tethered by pneumatic hoses and so their radius of motion is restricted.

>Read more from Max Planck Research News, May 13, 2016

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