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  Cornell University

MAE Publications and Papers

Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

New article: Sculpting Soft Machines

Article:  Argiolas, A; Mac Murray, BC; Van Meerbeek, I; Whitehead, J; Sinibaldi, E; Mazzolai, B; Shepherd, RF; “Sculpting Soft Machines”, Soft Robotics, 3 (3):101-108


Abstract:  This article describes an easily accessed manufacturing process for soft actuators. It does not require molds and uses safe, readily available materials: table salt and rubber molding compounds. This process involves sculpting or casting uncured rubber compounds and results in soft, open-cell foam structures, which can be sealed to form actuators. The foams have low elastic moduli ranging from 20 to 30kPa, large ultimate strains over 3.5, and rapid fluid transport rates up to 30L min(-1) cm(-2). To demonstrate the capabilities of this process, we sculpted a simple bending actuator, a gripper, and many other 3D shapes.

Blocked-force measurements demonstrated that the simple bending actuator can exert up to 5N of force at its tip, and the gripper picked up a 200g object. This technique could enable engineers of all ages and skill levels to engage in soft robot fabrication, contributing to K-12 STEM education. In addition, the proposed manufacturing technique could be also interesting for the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) community, thus combining science and arts. In addition, this work has the potential to inspire a new, more inventive form of engineering by combining the artistic practice of free-form sculpting with robot fabrication.

Funding Acknowledgement:  NASA NIAC [NNX15AL88G]; NSF MRSEC program [DMR-1120296]; National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship [DGE-1144153]

Funding Text:  This work was supported by NASA NIAC grant #NNX15AL88G. This work made use of the Cornell Center for Materials Research Shared Facilities, supported through the NSF MRSEC program (DMR-1120296). This work was supported, in part, by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-1144153.

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