Indexed on: 19 Dec '17Published on: 19 Dec '17Published in: Soft Robotics
Soft pneumatic actuators and motor-based mechanisms being concomitant with the cumbersome appendages have many challenges to making the independent robotic system with compact and lightweight configuration. Meanwhile, shape memory actuators have shown a promising alternative solution in many engineering applications ranging from artificial muscle to aerospace industry. However, one of the main limitations of such systems is their inherent softness resulting in a small actuation force, which prevents them from more effective applications. This issue can be solved by combining shape memory actuators and the mechanism of stiffness modulation. As a first, this study describes a shape memory alloy-based soft gripper composed of three identical fingers with variable stiffness for adaptive grasping in low stiffness state and effective holding in high stiffness state. Each finger with two hinges is fabricated through integrating soft composite actuator with stiffness changeable material where each hinge can approximately achieve a 55-fold changeable stiffness independently. Besides, each finger with two hinges can actively achieve multiple postures by both selectively changing the stiffness of hinges and actuating the relevant SMA wire. Based on these principles, the gripper is applicable for grasping objects with deformable shapes and varying shapes with a large range of weight where its maximum grasping force is increased to ∼10 times through integrating with the stiffness changeable mechanism. The final demonstration shows that the finger with desired shape-retained configurations enables the gripper to successfully pick up a frustum-shaped object.