Overhead view of the isoperimetric robot grasping and handling a basketball. Source: Farrin AbbottOverhead view of the isoperimetric robot grasping and handling a basketball. Source: Farrin AbbottA team of researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, has developed a pneumatic, soft, shape-changing robot capable of safely working alongside humans.

The so-called isoperimetric soft robot is an almost 4 ft tall, pneumatic robot that moves by contorting its air-filled fabric tubes while maintaining a consistent perimeter.

To accomplish this, the soft fabric tubes enable the robot to travel over inconsistent surfaces, deforming as needed, while the motors are connected to each other through a network of three-degree-of-freedom joints that form a truss configuration capable of supporting weight and enabling movement in three dimensions. Likewise, the motor nodes that enable the tubes to bend also travel along the fabric tube, pinching the fabric to create joints of different angles.

The isoperimetric robot does not require deflation or inflation to achieve mobility. As such, it does not require an external source of air or an onboard pump. Meanwhile, the robot’s motors are battery operated, so they also do not require attachment to an external power source, eliminating the need for bulky, rigid equipment so that the robot is soft and safe to work alongside humans.

The research team envisions that the isoperimetric robot could potentially be used in search and rescue missions, for instance, in the aftermath of a building collapse. In such a scenario, the robot could potentially enter into the collapsed building in a flattened configuration, then, once inside, inflate into a 3D truss configuration to create a space supported by the robot. The team also believes that the robot could be used in space exploration applications.

The research appears in the journal Science Robotics.

To see the soft robot in action, watch the accompanying video that appears courtesy of Stanford University and UC Santa Barbara.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com