Soft robots get a memory that works with air

Scientists from the United States have shown a memory model that works in air and can control soft robots. It is accessible and helps to remember the position of the moving parts of the device.

UC Riverside engineers have unveiled an air-powered computer memory that can be used to control soft robots. This development overcomes one of the biggest obstacles to the development of soft robotics: the fundamental mismatch between pneumatics and electronics. The work was published in the open access journal PLOS One.

Pneumatic soft robots use pressurized air to move soft, rubbery limbs and grips, surpassing traditional rigid robots for small tasks. In addition, they are safer for humans.

But existing pneumatic soft robot control systems still use electronic valves and computers to maintain the position of the moving parts of the robot. These electronic parts add to the cost, size and power consumption of soft robots, which limits their applicability.

To advance the capabilities of soft robotics, the researchers equipped it with a pneumatic system. In it, air, not electricity, passes through circuits or channels, and air pressure is used to indicate on, off, or true, false.

Pneumatic soft robots also needed a way to remember and maintain the position of their moving parts. The researchers realized that if they could create pneumatic logic memory for the soft robot, they could ditch electronic memory.

The researchers created their random access pneumatic memory chip using microfluidic valves instead of electronic transistors. Microfluidic valves were originally developed to control the flow of fluids in chips, but they can also control air flows. The valves remain sealed against pressure drops even when disconnected from the air supply line, creating pressure drops that act as memory and maintain the state of the robot’s actuators. Dense arrays of such valves can perform complex operations and reduce the amount of expensive, bulky, and power-hungry electronic equipment.

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Alexandr Ivanov earned his Licentiate Engineer in Systems and Computer Engineering from the Free International University of Moldova. Since 2013, Alexandr has been working as a freelance web programmer.
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Alexandr Ivanov

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