Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ANSWER (Autonomous Soft Robots Without Electronics)
Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2018-08-31
Multi-functional sub units are distributed through the robotic structures (Figure 1). These integrated structures possess all functions required for self-diagnosis, -regulation and interaction with their environment. All these components only consist of polymer-conductive-filler mixtures. Figure 2 depicts an example signal flow chart of an autonomous, soft robot without conventional electronics. The whole robot can be considered as a compliant mechanical structure or combination of compliant mechanical structures, which can undergo significant deformation. Those deformations will be transferred to the dielectric elastomer membrane and, hence, to the DE-sensors. That causes a change in their capacitance C and resistance R. These changes are registered by the DE-logic unit, consisting of DESs, which again controls the charging and, thus, the actuation of dielectric elastomer actuators. These actuators then cause the reaction of the soft robot to the sensed environmental impulse. Thereby, the robotic structure is only supplied with a constant direct current. All necessary signal processing and generation of driving signals for actuators is done within the structure by soft dielectric components. Therefore, the ANSWER project not only pushes forward the development of soft robotics but also the development of flexible and, more importantly stretchable electronics.
The large amount of media coverage and the numerous activities to disseminate the project to non-scientific public, especially in New Zealand, supports the general visibility of engineering science in society. Soft robotics and biomimetics are widely known topics in New Zealand mainly because of the interesting projects of the Biomimetics Lab and their good communication via main stream media. The ANSWER project was able to support that communication, by demonstrating interesting and appealing results. We plan to keep up that good media coverage in the future, in order to back the acceptance and the understanding about the necessity of publically funded research.
Extensive testing and characterization of dielectric elastomer oscillators - so-called artificial central pattern generators (aCPGs) - has been done. A mathematical model of the electro-mechanical sub-components and the entire system was derived based on those measurements. During the secondment to FESTO studies for soft robots and their applications were conducted.
Back in Dresden the development in soft robotics continued and resulted in several functional demonstrators. Several manufacturing technologies, such as ink-jet printing, injection moulding ans aerosol deposition have been investigated and used to produce soft robotic demonstrators. The DEO was experimentally analysed and a simulation model has been derived and published.