Indexed on: 29 Nov '17Published on: 29 Nov '17Published in: Soft Robotics
In this article, we have proposed a novel robotic finger design principle aimed to address two challenges in soft pneumatic grippers-the controllability of the stiffness and the controllability of the bending position. The proposed finger design is composed of a 3D printed multimaterial substrate and a soft pneumatic actuator. The substrate has four polylactic acid (PLA) segments interlocked with three shape memory polymer (SMP) joints, inspired by bones and joints in human fingers. By controlling the thermal energy of an SMP joint, the stiffness of the joints is modulated due to the dramatic change in SMP elastic modulus around its glass transition temperature (Tg). When SMP joints are heated above Tg, they exhibit very small stiffness, allowing the finger to easily bend around the SMP joints if the attached soft actuator is actuated. When there is no force from the soft actuator, shape recovery stress in SMP contributes to the finger's shape restoration. Since each joint's rotation can be individually controlled, the position control of the finger is made possible. Experimental analysis has been conducted to show the finger's variable stiffness and the result is compared with the analytical values. It is found that the stiffness ratio can be 24.9 times for a joint at room temperature (20°C) and at an elevated temperature of 60°C when air pressure p of the soft actuator is turned off. Finally, a gripper composed of two fingers is fabricated for demonstration.