Tech: 'Robotic Skins' turn everyday objects into robots

Christopher Davidson
September 23, 2018

"Given the design-on-the-fly nature of this approach, it's unlikely that a robot created using robotic skins will perform any one task optimally", she revealed.

Regarding the different tasks the makeshift robots can perform, Prof.

"We're now working on morphing robots - treating the robotic skins as surface-based sculptors of the underlying material to achieve shape-changing capabilities", Dr Kramer-Bottiglio said. So this means that you can wrap the sheets around nearly any object that is quite flexible, just like the researchers did with the stuffed horse in the video that they posted online, and you can then play with it to make the object move the way you want.

In the case of astronauts, the skins could be adapted and reused to meet all sorts of needs onboard the International Space Station, alleviating the high costs of sending multiple robots into space.

In the future, Kramer-Bottiglio hopes that the skins will be able to learn by themselves using data from the sensors, giving them the ability to adapt on their own, especially when wrapped around moldable objects like clay. "Now we can get combined modes of actuation - for example, simultaneous compression and bending", Prof.

Prof. Bottiglio's interests include soft robotics, stretchable electronics, and responsive material actuators.

In order to show how the skin works, the researchers created a number of prototypes. It was also used to create a gripper capable of grabbing and moving objects, and a wearable device that, when worn as a t-shirt, corrects poor posture.

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The scientists also demonstrated grasping motions, as well as peculiar gaits they called things like "rowing, inchworm and bodiless inchworm".

Kramer-Bottiglio came up with the idea a few years ago when NASA asked developers to make better and more versatile soft robotic systems. That was when Prof.

In fact, the Yale and Purdue engineers designed the technology in partnership with NASA. All they have to do is reconfigure it.

A typical robotic arm, for example, is static, solid and only interacts with its environment in a prescribed way.

With the robotic skins on board, anything from balloons to balls of crumpled paper could potentially be made into a robot with a goal.

The project is a bit funny-looking, but Kramer-Bottiglio said it has a serious goal: to help NASA prepare for the unknown environments of deep space exploration. "The question is: How do you prepare for the unknown unknowns?" It forms part of the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program.

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