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Design of a variable stiffness flexible manipulator with composite granular jamming and membrane coupling


Abstract and Figures

Robotic manipulators for minimally invasive surgeries have traditionally been rigid, with a steerable end effector. While the rigidity of manipulators improve precision and controllability, it limits reachability and dexterity in constrained environments. Soft manipulators with controllable stiffness on the other hand, can be deployed in single port or natural orifice surgical applications to reach a wide range of areas inside the body, while being able to passively adapt to uncertain external forces, adapt the stiffness distribution to suit the kinematic and dynamic requirements of the task, and provide flexibility for configuration control. Here, we present the design of a snake-like laboratory made soft robot manipulator of 20 mm in average diameter, which can actuate, soften, or stiffen joints independently along the length of the manipulator by combining granular jamming with McKibben actuators. It presents a comprehensive study on the relative contributions of the granule size, material type, and membrane coupling on the range, profile, and variability of stiffness.
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Design of a Variable Stiffness Flexible Manipulator with Composite
Granular Jamming and Membrane Coupling
Allen Jiang, Georgios Xynogalas, Prokar Dasgupta, Kaspar Althoefer, and Thrishantha Nanayakkara
Abstract Robotic manipulators for minimally invasive surg-
eries have traditionally been rigid, with a steerable end effector.
While the rigidity of manipulators improve precision and
controllability, it limits reachability and dexterity in constrained
environments. Soft manipulators with controllable stiffness on
the other hand, can be deployed in single port or natural orifice
surgical applications to reach a wide range of areas inside
the body, while being able to passively adapt to uncertain
external forces, adapt the stiffness distribution to suit the
kinematic and dynamic requirements of the task, and provide
flexibility for configuration control. Here, we present the design
of a snake-like laboratory made soft robot manipulator of
20 mm in average diameter, which can actuate, soften, or
stiffen joints independently along the length of the manipulator
by combining granular jamming with McKibben actuators. It
presents a comprehensive study on the relative contributions of
the granule size, material type, and membrane coupling on the
range, profile, and variability of stiffness.
Medical robotics today is making use of a variety of
robotic types, from the rigid robotic arms for minimally
invasive surgeries (MIS) to flexible endoscopes for natural
orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES). While
the success rate between traditional laparoscopic surgery
and robot assisted laparoscopic surgery is similar, patients
who have undergone robotic surgery recover significantly
faster and incur lower costs [1], [2]. However, while these
systems are good for MIS, they still have several drawbacks
in surgeries designed to be even less invasive such as
NOTES and laparo-endoscopic single-site surgery (LESS).
Rigid robotics, such as the da Vinci robot, are difficult to
use in these surgeries because the instruments clash with
each other [3]. On the other hand, while flexible endoscopes
provide increased maneuverability and require fewer trocar
ports, they have lower platform stability than their rigid
counterparts and visualization which is not independent of
the instruments [4], [5].
Thus, to take advantage of the stability and performance
of rigid robotics as well as the maneuverability and access
This work was supported by the Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital Charity
and by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK, under
grant agreement EP/I028773/1.
Allen Jiang, Georgios Xynogalas, Kaspar Althoefer, and Thris-
hantha Nanayakkara are with the Centre for Robotics Research,
Division of Engineering, King’s College London, Strand, London,
WC2R 2LS, UK allen.jiang, georgios.xynogalas,
Prokar Dasgupta is with the Robotic Surgery and Urological Innovation
group, King’s College London, St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RT, UK
requirements of a flexible system, a variable stiffness robot
is a clear contender. There are currently several systems
which are dexterous manipulators, but most lack the aspect
of variable stiffness [6], [7], [8]. The most common type of
flexible manipulator, tendon driven systems, generally suffer
from backlash and large external footprints [9], [10], [11],
[12]. Tendon driven robots can achieve variable stiffness by
pulling or slacking wires, but the stiffness of the tip cannot be
greater than the stiffness at the base. Snake-like robots that
use micro-motors within the joints suffer from low torque,
rendering them unable to manipulate tissue [13], [14]. So,
while they can have the middle section of the snake-like
robot be at a relatively lower stiffness, the absolute stiffness
attainable is insufficient for surgical manipulation.
In the field of variable stiffness, flexible manipulators,
there are a wide range of designs. A group in this field
developed a soft robot based on thermally activated joints, in
which a solder-based mechanism is used to lock and release
joints [15]. This technique has a limited ability to vary level
the stiffness. Ie, the solder is either fully rigid or completely
soft, as opposed to partially rigid. Another group created
a manipulator consisted of pre-curved concentric tubes [8].
This design uses curved, plastic tubes of varying stiffness to
extend the distal tip of the robot. However, like tendon driven
systems, the segments near the tip of the manipulator must be
less stiff than the preceding segments. While the concentric
tubes do benefit from small diameters, the inherent design
of the robot cannot quickly adapt and requires a good map
of its environment.
This paper aims to address these problems with granular
jamming, a phenomenon where many solid grains can act as
’fragile matter’ [16]. An externally applied stress can change
a granule system from being fluid-like to solid-like. There
are several examples of granular jamming being used as a
universal joint and actuator [17], [18], [19]. When in its
fluid-like state, a granular system can encompass arbitrary
shapes and then, most importantly, change stiffness when
the external stress is applied. This phenomena has lead a
variety of applications to use jamming, such as the haptic
system in [20] and elephant trunk in [21]. Additionally,
unlike technologies such as concentric tubes or tendon driven
systems, a manipulator with granular jammed joints can vary
its stiffness at different points of the arm. For example, a
three joint system can be configured to be rigid-soft-rigid
with granular jamming, whereas the former two types of
manipulators cannot have a soft middle. However, there
2012 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on
Intelligent Robots and Systems
October 7-12, 2012. Vilamoura, Algarve, Portugal
978-1-4673-1736-8/12/S31.00 ©2012 IEEE 2922
Fig. 1. Diagram of the joint segment as a cantilever. The left diagram is
the system in its normal state, and the right diagram is it in its deflected
state. Region 1 undergoes tension and granules lose contact with each other,
whereas region 2 experiences compression. Region 3 is where particles
remain in their normal configuration.
are problems with granular jamming, specifically with the
limit of rigidity. For a robot, granular jamming is used
by encompassing the grains in a membrane. The internal
pressure of the system is pulled under vacuum, causing
the, typically atmospheric, external pressure to squeeze the
granules together. Because of this, there is a limit to the
amount of external pressure which can be applied, as we
cannot increase the pressure differential by pulling more
than an absolute vacuum. The purpose of this comprehensive
study is to optimize the variable stiffness structure of a
granular jamming joint by aiming to understand the dominant
factors that underpin the way to increase the spectrum of
stiffness we can achieve with minimum hysteresis.
While the effects of granule shapes and sizes have been
studied by several groups before, to the best of the authors’
knowledge, no experimental studies have been done on soft
granules or the coupling between the membrane and the
To understand the behavior of granular jamming joint, we
modeled it as an one end fixed cantilever beam undergoing
a force at the tip, as seen in Fig. 1. The purpose of these
simulations is to study the effect of Young’s modulus Ein
the context of granular jamming. The total bending moment
Mis the following:
|M|=|L|| Fext |(1)
where Mis the total moment, Lis the length of the
beam, and Fext is the externally applied force. For our
experiments, Lwas 40 mm, and will be likewise used for
our simulations. The moment of at single point along the
beam is characterized by the following:
M=Fext (Ld)(2)
where dis the distance from the fixed end. From (2) we
can see that the change in moment decreases linearly, as d
approaches the tip. Thus, with the fixed end undergoing the
largest moment, the jammed system will bend the most at
that point, as seen in Fig. 3.
To calculate the bending of a beam, approximating our
beams have a rectangular cross section, the follow equation
can be used:
Fig. 2. Calculated beam bending to find the equivalent Young’s modulus
E, given a tip force Fext and tip displacement y(L).
Fig. 3. Diagram of our experimental setup, where the granular jammed
joint is treated as a cantilever beam.
y(d) = 12Fext
Ewt 3(Ld2
where wand tare the width and thickness of the beam,
and y(d)is the perpendicular displacement of the beam along
distance d. Fig. 2 shows the calculated beam bending shape
and corresponding Evalue from (3), where the tip deflection
distance y(L)is kept constant at 10 mm and Fext is from
experimental data.
Comparing the images generated by our simulations and
experiments, such as Fig. 2 and Fig. 3, we find that our joints
can be approximated as cantilever beams, as the bending
profiles are the same.
Our set up consisted of horizontally deflecting a cylin-
drical, latex membrane packed with granules by pushing an
ATI Mini40 Force/Torque sensor to 10 mm, holding for 5
seconds, and returning the sensor to its initial position. The
sensor was mounted on a linear module programmed to move
the sensor in 0.77 mm steps, pausing for 1 second between
steps to allow the granular material and membrane, to relax
and approach a steady state.
The pressure was measured by a Honeywell 0-30 PSI
Absolute pressure sensor, where 0 PSI is full vacuum and
15 PSI is atmospheric pressure. A Mastercool 90066-2V-220
Vacuum Pump was connected to the granular joint with a
filter used to prevent granules from traveling into the pump.
An air tank was not used, because the pump was large
enough to keep the pressure at a constant level. If more joints
Fig. 4. For our prototype, we used a 10 mm diameter by 40 mm long
cylindrical membrane, and tested several commercially available, round,
plastic beads. Because of the fixed size of the membrane, the 4 mm beads
were found to have the highest stiffness and least variability.
are used, it may become necessary to add an air tank to better
regulate the pressure. An intermediate vacuum chamber may
also be required to achieve lower pressures, as our pump was
only able to reach a pressure of 1.5 PSI absolute. A Labview
program was used to control the motor position and log the
pressure and force data.
Table I summarizes the experimental results. The peak
force range compares the max force exhibited between 15
PSI and 1.5 PSI. The hysteresis column is the average loss
of force between the pushing and returning measurements
of the 1.5 PSI state. The variability column lists the average
standard deviation of the 1.5 PSI pressure level and the total
average standard deviation across all four pressures.
A. The effect of granular size and shape
1) Granular size test: The smaller the granule, the larger
the surface area to volume ratio there is. Thus, we can expect
smaller granules to have more traction between each other
and the membrane, and consequently have a larger stiffness
range. Five sizes were tested: 8 mm, 6 mm, 4 mm, 2 mm, and
1.5 mm. For these granules, 4 mm beads were the smallest
commercially available size we could find at a price range
similar to that of the 6 and 8 mm beads. Thus, the decision
was made to continue the size comparison from the sphere
beads in Fig. 4 with cube beads in Fig. 5.
Fig. 5. Tests on cube, plastic beads show that the is no significant
improvement in stiffness or variance in sizes below 4 mm.
2) Shape: The geometry of the individual granules is
significant as well. The shape of cube granules yielded
results with much less variability than the sphere beads. The
repeatability and linearity of the 4 mm cube beads made
them a more ideal candidate for a robotic system, despite
the sacrifice in maximum stiffness.
3) Volume fraction: Affected by both size and shape, the
volume fraction is an important factor to maximize, with the
granular system achieving better stiffness ranges at higher
packing rates. The volume fraction φcan be found with the
following equation:
Vtotal is the volume of the cylindrical membrane, which is
3141.59 mm3. The volume fraction for the 8 mm diameter,
round beads is φ8mm = 0.682. Comparatively, for the 4
mm round beads φ4mm = 0.864, and 4 mm cube beads
φ4mmcube = 0.703. Despite being a good indicator of granular
performance, however, there are other contributing factors
for picking an ideal granule type, since a high φvalue does
not correspond to a low variance or hysteresis.
B. The effect of soft granule deformation
1) Solid rubber granules: Based on the work in [22],
deformable granules were tested to verify their simulations.
They postulated that deformable granules, with their over-
lapping stiffness, would improve the total tangential force
between granules. [22] notes that this total tangential force is
limited by the Coulomb frictional limit, as past this value the
Fig. 6. Tests on solid rubber cube beads show that while the standard
deviation is low at 0.05, the peak force is also low at 1.8 N. However,
unlike the solid, plastic beads, these granules exhibit a much more linear
profile for both pushing and returning.
Fig. 7. The cube, hollow, rubber beads had similar profiles, despite varying
the pressure. There was only a 0.35 N improvement from atmospheric
pressure to near vacuum.
grains begin to slide across each other. For our tests, we used
polyurethane rubber with a hardness of shore 70A. However,
Fig. 6 shows that despite the added traction between indi-
vidual granules to adjacent neighbors, the deformability of
the granules themselves decreased the upper bound of the
stiffness range.
For comparison, a solid block (10x10x40 mm) of the same
polyurethane had a peak force of 5.47 N. So, rubber granules
are significantly softer than a solid structure of the same
2) Hollow rubber granules: To investigate the behavior
of granules with a spring coefficient and negligible damping,
hollow rubber grains were made and tested, as seen in Fig. 7.
The same polyurethane rubber was used. Plastic molds were
printed with a rapid prototyping machine, and sheets of half
of the hollow cubes were pressed together to create airtight,
hollow rubber granules that held an internal pressure at an
atmospheric 15 PSI.
3) Composite granules: Fig. 8 shows the behavior of
solid, hard granules with high traction. Plastic granules were
individually covered in a 0.5 mm layer of the polyurethane
rubber. Our results show that the composite cubes improved
the force range over purely rubber granules, and improved
both the hysteresis and variability over purely plastic gran-
C. The effect of membrane coupling
The stiffness of the granular jammed joint no longer sig-
nificantly improves after a certain deflection point, possibly
as the granules shift or no are longer able to maintain good
contact with each other. We see that at these instances the
membrane is effectively the only thing resisting the external
Fig. 8. Results for a composite, cube granule type, where the center of
each particle is solid plastic surrounded by a layer of rubber. The force only
peaked at 2.16 N, but had a very low level of hysteresis.
Fig. 9. Measured data of 4 mm plastic spheres in a latex membrane with
4 mm half spheres lining the inside. The force peaked at 2.27 N.
force. To remedy this, we coupled the membrane to the
granules by embedding 4 mm half-spheres along the inside
of the membrane itself, so that it would lock the granules
into place.
Fig. 10. A sheet of latex rubber used to create a “bumpy” membrane to
couple the granules to the membrane.
We have shown that by reducing the pressure inside
the membrane, the joint elements become stiff without a
significant volume change. As a proof of concept that these
granular systems can also exhibit actuation, we wrapped
a mesh around each membrane, and inflated the elements
with positive pressure. The elements acted like a pneumatic
muscles and contracted. By placing three or more elements
at each joint, actuation can be achieved with two degrees of
freedom. This is similar to the design used by [23]. Their
design consists of a McKibben actuator wrapped in several
jamming modules. They achieve actuation by stiffening se-
lected modules and contracting the single pneumatic muscle.
Fig. 11. A set variable stiffness actuators shown with one actuator activated
at 55 PSI absolute (40 PSI gauge). The change in angle is low at 15 degrees.
Though all of the actuators were filled with granules, the two other elements
were neither actuated or stiffened.
However, by integrating the granular jamming element into a
McKibben actuator itself and using several in parallel, we can
increase the manipulator force. This is because the direction
of actuation is not dependent the stiffness of the jammed el-
ements, but rather on the actuators themselves. Additionally,
this design reduces the number of tubing required per joint
by at least one. This is due to the fact that the actuation
and stiffening mechanisms can share the same line, whereas
[23]’s design requires an additional, independent line for the
center actuator. Future designs of manipulator can reduce the
number of required pneumatic lines even further. Two main
lines, one for compressed air and another for vacuum, can
run down the length of the robot, and each joint will have
their own lines branching off of the two mains.
Our actuators respectively achieved 10% strain 15% strain
at gauge pressures of 10 and 40 PSI. This is about 2-4
times higher than unwounded shape memory alloy (SMA)
wire, which achieve about 4% strain, not to mention that a
pneumatic muscle can achieve much larger forces. Another
advantage over SMAs or conventional push/pull rods is that
this design, without metal components, could be compatible
for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). One issue with
this design, however, is that when actuated, the increase in
internal volume can rearrange the granules in an undesirable
manner. While on its side, the problem is minimal, but
when held vertically, the granules in an contracted actuator
will collect at the bottom. This problem could be reduced
by compartmentalizing the membrane’s internal structure or
futher coupling each granule to the membrane with strings.
Future work can be done on the bending profiles when one
of the three segments at a joint is actuated, while the other
two are unactuated, stiffened, semi-stiffened, and actuated.
These profiles and the muscle control schemes are, however,
beyond the scope of this paper.
From Table I, we find that at atmospheric pressure, the
peak forces are similar for all granule types. The medium
sized granules, chiefly the 2-4 mm sizes, achieved higher
peak forces under vacuum than granules of a larger or smaller
size. This indicates that there could be an optimum size for
granules. However, the 2-4 mm size may only be a local
optimum, since very small grains may experience other sig-
nificant factors such as electrostatic forces or intermolecular
bonding. Studies of these effects are outside the scope of this
The force-deflection profile of many of the tests display a
plateau effect, where the measured force no longer increases
as the system is further deflected, most notably seen in Fig. 4
and 5. This is possibly a result of granules shifting and losing
contact with adjacent particles, particularly in the tensioned
side of the system, as demonstrated in Fig. 1. At that point,
the main resisting force could be the membrane itself, which
has a maximum value.
While the rubber granules in Fig. 6 and 7 proved to be
insufficiently stiff, the linearity and low hysteresis of their
profiles could be attributed to the decreased probability of
shear between individual granules. As shown in Fig. 8, a
new, composite bead type did achieve better linearity, albeit
little improvement for stiffness. Nonetheless, the linearity of
the stiffness and lower hysteresis will simplify the control
scheme for the manipulator.
The “bumpy” membrane, seen in Fig. 10 and 9, proved
to less effective than the composite granules, but did signif-
icantly improve the hysteresis and linearity over both the 4
mm plastic spheres and cubes with decoupled membranes.
While the variability was not improved, membrane coupling
Bead Type Membrane Type Force Range (N) 1.5 PSI Hysteresis 1.5 PSI Variability (Total Mean) # of Trials
8mm Plastic Spheres Decoupled Latex 0.48 - 2.47 1.25 0.53 (0.32) 10
6mm Plastic Spheres Decoupled Latex 0.61 - 2.27 1.25 0.57 (0.35) 10
4mm Plastic Spheres Decoupled Latex 0.61 - 3.16 1.60 0.31 (0.16) 10
4mm Plastic Cubes Decoupled Latex 0.45 - 2.38 0.94 0.20 (0.09) 5
2mm Plastic Cubes Decoupled Latex 0.50 - 2.70 1.16 0.10 (0.07) 6
1.5mm Plastic Cubes Decoupled Latex 0.51 - 2.49 1.65 0.19 (0.11) 6
4mm Solid Rubber Cubes Decoupled Latex 0.75 - 1.82 0.34 0.05 (0.04) 6
4mm Hollow Rubber Cubes Decoupled Latex 0.65 - 1.00 0.29 0.02 (0.03) 5
10mm Solid Rubber Block N/A 5.47 - 5.47 0.30 1.17 8
4mm Composite Cubes Decoupled Latex 0.53 - 2.16 0.13 0.24 (0.22) 5
4mm Plastic Spheres Coupled Latex 0.30 - 2.27 0.58 0.67 (0.29) 5
remains to be an interesting area to be explored in the field
of jamming.
Many further improvements can be made to increase the
overall stiffness, increase the linearity of the stiffness, and
decrease the variance, possibly with interlocking granules
or internal sub-membranes. Our tests suggest the following:
volume fraction affects the overall stiffness of the jammed
matter; membrane coupling affects the hysteresis and lin-
earity of the system; and inter-particle traction affects the
variability, hysteresis, and linearity of the stiffness. We would
also like to note that the membrane coupling and inter-
particle traction seem to be tackling the same phenomena, the
shifting of granules. However, for membrane coupling, only
the outer layer of granules are kept in their relative positions
during and after deformation. Whereas for the composite
granules, the inter-particle traction keeps the granules from
sliding between each other, as well as from sliding against
the latex membrane.
While the actuation work done for the granular jammed
joint is still preliminary, granule filled air muscles in Fig.
11 were able to successfully actuate. Paving the road for a
viable variable stiffness flexible manipulator.
There were several experimental limitations for our in-
vestigations. The granules tested in each category were not
uniformly sized, with a measurement difference of about 5-
10% between “identical” sets of granules. Also, the volume
fraction differed between certain trials, as different packing
configurations yielded more or fewer granules inside the
membrane. This could have increased the size of some of
the error bars, as well as the limited number of trials. While
still just a proof of concept, the braided sleeves used for the
pneumatic muscles had a neutral state (uncontracted form)
which was stronger than the stiffness of the internal granular
jammed system. However, we do plan to resolve this issue
with a different type of braid.
The identification of the factors affecting the stiffness
range, hysteresis, linearity, and variability in granular jam-
ming and the utilization of new material types, such as the
composite granules and membrane coupling, in this paper
opens opportunities for further research in granular jamming
and soft robotics.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution of the
Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust Foundation, the Engi-
neering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC),
UK, and reviewers’ comments.
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... To analyse the granular jamming behaviour, the flexible arm was simplified into a soft manipulator, and then modelled as a fixed cantilever beam bearing a force at its tip; thus, the soft manipulator exhibits the normal and deflected states shown in Figure 2. In the deflected state, region 1 is under tension and the granules are separated from each other, region 2 undergoes compression, and region 3 contains granules in their normal state [36,37]. are used simultaneously during the surgery. ...
... To analyse the granular jamming behaviour, the flexible arm was simplified into a soft manipulator, and then modelled as a fixed cantilever beam bearing a force at its tip; thus, the soft manipulator exhibits the normal and deflected states shown in Figure 2. In the deflected state, region 1 is under tension and the granules are separated from each other, region 2 undergoes compression, and region 3 contains granules in their normal state [36,37]. The total bending moment of the soft manipulator can be expressed as: The total bending moment of the soft manipulator can be expressed as: ...
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To meet the practical application requirements of cardiac fixation during off-pump coronary artery bypass surgery, a soft cardiac fixator with a flexible arm was previously designed. To enable the soft cardiac fixator to adapt to uncertain external forces, this study evaluates the variable-stiffness performance of the flexible arm. First, the flexible arm was simplified as a soft silicone manipulator measuring 60 mm × 90 mm × 120 mm, which can actuate, soften, or stiffen independently along the length of the arm by combining granular jamming with input pressure. Then, the soft manipulator was modelled as a cantilever beam to analyse its variable-stiffness performance with granular jamming. Next, based on theoretical analysis and calculations, many experiments were conducted to evaluate the variable-stiffness performance of the soft manipulator. The experimental results demonstrated that the variable-stiffness performance is influenced by the flexible arm length, the size of the granules, and the input pressure.
... According to this approach, stiffness-controllable octopus-like robot arm can be designed for applications such as robotics Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS). Moreover these designs can be inspired by the biological system, such as, for example, the behaviors of octopus arms which can naturally alter their body from soft to rigid configuration [13,14]. ...
... than one jamming mechanism are a recent trend [370], [371]. Negative pressure is most commonly used to force a phase transition [354], [358], [372]- [374]; however, the following methods have also been reported: interstitial liquid [375], [376], inflation of a neighboring cavity [362], [371], cabledriven volume reduction [377], [378], external membrane compression [364], injection of grains [379], and linking via a thread [380]. Jamming structures are relatively unrestricted in their possible morphologies, and as such have been deployed in a variety of use cases including minimally invasive surgical tools [381], supportive exoskeletons [382], [383], robotic paws [384], [385] and tendons [189], and damping end effectors for UAVs [386]. ...
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Soft robotics is a rapidly evolving field where robots are fabricated using highly deformable materials and usually follow a bioinspired design. Their high dexterity and safety make them ideal for applications such as gripping, locomotion, and biomedical devices, where the environment is highly dynamic and sensitive to physical interaction. Pneumatic actuation remains the dominant technology in soft robotics due to its low cost and mass, fast response time, and easy implementation. Given the significant number of publications in soft robotics over recent years, newcomers and even established researchers may have difficulty assessing the state of the art. To address this issue, this article summarizes the development of soft pneumatic actuators and robots up until the date of publication. The scope of this article includes the design, modeling, fabrication, actuation, characterization, sensing, control, and applications of soft robotic devices. In addition to a historical overview, there is a special emphasis on recent advances such as novel designs, differential simulators, analytical and numerical modeling methods, topology optimization, data-driven modeling and control methods, hardware control boards, and nonlinear estimation and control techniques. Finally, the capabilities and limitations of soft pneumatic actuators and robots are discussed and directions for future research are identified.
... The application determines the grain size; for example, powderlike granular size is generally utilized in soft robotic grippers [143,147]. Soft manipulators, which require greater stiffness, normally employ larger grains [148]. Sayyadan et al [149] studied the impact of various mechanical parameters (stiffness, curvature radius, applied moment, internal stresses, and defection) on the behavior of cantilever membrane beam samples by presenting a simplified formulation under different vacuum pressure conditions. ...
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Soft actuators can be classified into five categories: tendon-driven actuators, electroactive polymers (EAPs), shape-memory materials, soft fluidic actuators (SFAs), and hybrid actuators. The characteristics and potential challenges of each class are explained at the beginning of this review. Furthermore, recent advances especially focusing on soft fluidic actuators (SFAs) are illustrated. There are already some impressive SFA designs to be found in the literature, constituting a fundamental basis for design and inspiration. The goal of this review is to address the latest innovative designs for SFAs and their challenges and improvements with respect to previous generations, and help researchers to select appropriate materials for their application. We suggest six influential designs: pneumatic artificial muscles (PAM), PneuNet, continuum arm, universal granular gripper, origami soft structure, and vacuum-actuated muscle-inspired pneumatic (VAMPs). The hybrid design of SFAs for improved functionality and shape controllability is also considered. Modeling SFAs, based on previous research, can be classified into three main groups: analytical methods, numerical methods, and model-free methods. We demonstrate the latest advances and potential challenges in each category. Regarding the fact that the performance of soft actuators is dependent on material selection, we then focus on the behaviors and mechanical properties of the various types of silicone which can be found in the SFA literature. For a better comparison of the different constitutive models of silicone materials which have been proposed and tested in the literature, ABAQUS software is here employed to generate the engineering and true strain-stress data from the constitutive models, and compare them with standard uniaxial tensile test data based on ASTM412. Although the figures presented show that in a small range of stress-strain data, most of these models can predict the material model acceptably, few of them predict it accurately for large strain-stress values.
... An alternative smart material that partially eliminates the above-mentioned problems is Vacuum Packed Particles (VPP) [5,12,22,41]. VPP structures are composed of polymer granular media inside a plastomer coating, whose mechanical properties can be controlled by a physical phenomenon known as the jamming phase transition. Granular media can be soft and flowing like a dense liquid if they are loosely combined, but become rigid as a firm solid when they are vacuum packed. ...
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Jammed granular systems, also known as vacuum packed particles (VPP), have begun to compete with the well commercialized group of smart structures already widely applied in various fields of industry, mainly in civil and mechanical engineering. However, the engineering applications of VPP are far ahead of the mathematical description of the complex mechanical mechanisms observed in these unconventional structures. As their wider commercialization is hindered by this gap, in the paper the authors consider experimental investigations of granular systems, mainly focusing on the mechanical responses that take place under various temperature and strain rate conditions. To capture the nonlinear behavior of jammed granular systems, a constitutive model constituting an extension of the Johnson–Cook model was developed and is presented. green The extended and modified constitutive model for VPP proposed in the paper could be implemented in the future into a commercial Finite Element Analysis code, making it possible to carry out fast and reliable numerical simulations.
... Some scholars have focused on the effects of granule properties in a purpose to boost the grasping abilities while maintaining the simplicity of the gripper and manipulating system. 27 Accordingly, it is found that the threshold of the jamming process can be predominantly determined by the state of particles. Further investigations showed that com-pliant granular materials have a low jamming threshold while achieving a weak solid state of the package because of the low friction between inner particles. ...
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In this work, we proposed an inflatable particle-jamming gripper based on a novel grasping strategy of integrating the positive pressure and partial filling, in which the positive pressure increases the contact area between the gripper and objects, and the grain package in a partial-filled state provides significant grasping adaptation for the gripper. First, we design and fabricate the inflatable particle-jamming gripper and clarify its working mechanism. Then three kinds of grippers, including the proposed inflatable gripper, full-filled gripper, and partial-filled gripper, are experimentally compared for the capability of grasping objects of various sizes, and their performances from four metrics (compliance, reliability, grasping robustness, and lifting efficiency) are evaluated as well. Furthermore, a theoretical analysis is carried out for different grasping performances among the three kinds of grippers, in which the inflatable gripper performs a more promising grasping performance. In this article, by inflating the gripper to an ordered extent with positive pressure, the originally full-filled gripper turns into a partial-filled state. Based on the unique grasping strategy of the proposed gripper, it is possible to achieve a brilliant compliance and robust grasps. Even though the object is located 20 mm away from the gripper-center-axis, valid grasps are observed as well. It is concluded that the proposed gripper could potentially have a wide range of applications in the industry and daily activities.
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Tactile hands-only training is particularly important for medical palpation. Generally, equipment for palpation training is expensive, static, or provides too few study cases to practice on. We have therefore developed a novel haptic surface concept for palpation training, using ferrogranular jamming. The concept's design consists of a tactile field spanning 260 x 160 mm, and uses ferromagnetic granules to alter shape, position, and hardness of palpable irregularities. Granules are enclosed in a compliant vacuum-sealed chamber connected to a pneumatic system. A variety of geometric shapes (output) can be obtained by manipulating and arranging granules with permanent magnets. The tactile hardness of the palpable output can be controlled by adjusting the chamber's vacuum level. A psychophysical experiment (N 28) investigated how people interact with the palpable surface and evaluated the proposed concept. Untrained participants characterized irregularities with different position, form, and hardness through palpation, and their performance was evaluated. A baseline (no irregularity) was compared to three irregularity conditions: two circular shapes with different hardness (Hard Lump and Soft Lump), and an Annulus shape. 100% of participants correctly identified an irregularity in the three irregularity conditions, whereas 78.6% correctly identified baseline. Overall agreement between participants was high (κ 0.723). The Intersection over Union (IoU) for participants sketched outline over the actual shape was IoU Mdn 79.3% for Soft Lump, IoU Mdn 68.8% for Annulus, and IoU Mdn 76.7% for Hard Lump. The distance from actual to drawn center was Mdn 6.4 mm (Soft Lump), Mdn 5.3 mm (Annulus), and Mdn 7.4 mm (Hard Lump), which are small distances compared to the size of the field. The participants subjectively evaluated Soft Lump to be significantly softer than Hard Lump and Annulus. Moreover, 71% of participants thought they improved their palpation skills throughout the experiment. Together, these results show that the concept can render irregularities with different position, form, and hardness, and that users are able to locate and characterize these through palpation. Participants experienced an improvement in palpation skills throughout the experiment, which indicates the concepts feasibility as a palpation training device.
The paper tackles conceptual solutions and theoretical and experimental analysis methods to prototype a robotic system used in surgery. The system put forward consists of an actuation unit, a command and control unit, and a flexible unit. The flexible unit displays a complex structure consisting of rigid bodies (vertebrae) and deformable bodies (drive wires). The present research study was carried out during three stages: establishing the mathematical models according to the analysis of the flexible unit movement, the development of virtual prototyping of the flexible unit, and the experimental study of the developed prototype. The dynamic analysis of the flexible unit is based on the theory of multi-body systems; hence major challenge was to model the rigid-body and the deformable-body contact in reliance on the theory developed by Craig&Bampton. Nevertheless, the theoretical, virtual, and experimental results reported following our comparative analysis highly recommend the use of the prototype obtained in minimally invasive explorations.
Variable stiffness mechanisms establish a bridge between rigid, precise robots and soft, compliant robots. In certain applications it is necessary to exert high forces while having compliance, such as in wearable robots, high payload soft grippers, and manipulators. Negative pressure based jamming approaches have been widely used to tune variable stiffness. However, this variation of stiffness and strength is limited to negative one atmospheric pressure. To enable a wider pressure range which potentially enable wider stiffness range, we proposed a Positive Pressure Jamming (PPJ) approach. The PPJ is fabricated by embedding a pneumatic actuator inside a cylindrical non-stretchable fabric sleeve which contains granules. Pressurizing air into the pneumatic actuator will jam the granules, thus stiffening the soft body. To add degrees of freedom for the PPJ, we place a pair of friction pads in parallel between two PPJ units which act as a self-locking revolute joint. Both the PPJs and self-locking joint can be stiffened at the same time thus enabling the structure to be jammed in multiple configurations. Experiments showed that approximately six-fold stiffness increment (0.69N/mm to 4.02N/mm) could be achieved by our PPJ when input pressure is changed from 68 kPa to 172 kPa with exerted force ranges from 4N to 23N. Furthermore, we apply the proposed PPJ method into limb support devices, demonstrating a promising potential that PPJ has in wearable robot field.
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Hyper-redundant manipulators can be fragile, expensive, and limited in their flexibility due to the distributed and bulky actuators that are typically used to achieve the precision and degrees of freedom (DOFs) required. Here, a manipulator is proposed that is robust, high-force, low-cost, and highly articulated without employing traditional actuators mounted at the manipulator joints. Rather, local tunable stiffness is coupled with off-board spooler motors and tension cables to achieve complex manipulator configurations. Tunable stiffness is achieved by reversible jamming of granular media, which-by applying a vacuum to enclosed grains-causes the grains to transition between solid-like states and liquid-like ones. Experimental studies were conducted to identify grains with high strength-to-weight performance. A prototype of the manipulator is presented with performance analysis, with emphasis on speed, strength, and articulation. This novel design for a manipulator-and use of jamming for robotic applications in general-could greatly benefit applications such as human-safe robotics and systems in which robots need to exhibit high flexibility to conform to their environments.
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This paper connects the investigation of the biome-chanics and behavior of octopus in the performance of a wide range of dexterous manipulations to the crea-tion of octopus arm-like robots. This is achieved via the development of a series of octopus arm models which aid in both explaining the underlying octopus biomechanics and in developing a specification for the design of robotic manipulators. Robotic manipulators which match the key features of these models are then introduced, followed by the development of inverse kinematics for the circular (constant) curvature model.
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This paper presents a new architecture in soft robotics that utilizes particulate jamming technology. A novel concept of actuation is described that utilizes jamming technology to modulate the direction and magnitude of the work performed by a single central actuator. Jamming "activators" modulate work by jamming and unjamming (solidifying and liquifying) a granular medium coupled to a core actuator. These ideas are demonstrated in the Jamming Skin Enabled Locomotion (JSEL) prototype which can morph its shape and achieve locomotion. Next, a new actuator, denoted a Jamming Modulated Unimorph (JMU), is presented in addition to the JSEL topology. The JMU uses a single linear actuator and a discrete number of jamming cells to turn the 1 degree of freedom (DOF) linear actuator into a multi DOF bending actuator. Full characterization of the JMU actuator is presented, followed by a concluding argument for jamming as an enabling mechanism for soft robots in general, regardless of actuation technology.
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In order to fully benefit from the functionalities of flexible endoscopes in surgery a simple shaft-guide that can be used to support the flexible endoscope shaft is required. Such a shaft-guide must be flexible during insertion into the human body and rigidified when properly positioned to support the flexible endoscope shaft. A shaft-guide called ‘Vacu-SL’ was designed, consisting of a foil tube, filled with particles, that is rigidified by creating a vacuum in its tube. It is expected that the bending stiffness of a loaded, rigidified Vacu-SL shaft-guide is significantly influenced by the shape, hardness and size of the filler particles used. The goal of this study was to find the relations between the filler particles’ size, shape and hardness and a rigidified Vacu-SL shaft-guide’s bending stiffness. Vacu-SL test models were made using polystyrene, acrylic glass, glass, steel, and corundum particles as spheres, pebbles and granulate, with average diameters between 0.16–1.7mm. These test models were rigidified and then loaded in a tensile tester. The forces needed for 5 and 10mm deflections of the rigidified test models were measured. The results show that particle size, shape and hardness all influence a rigidified Vacu-SL shaft-guide’s bending stiffness. Size and hardness showed an optimum and granules performed better than spheres. Although the maximally measured bending stiffness might be insufficient to enable proper guidance of flexible endoscope shafts, the results suggest several ways to successfully improve the Vacu-SL shaft-guide. KeywordsSize-Shape-Hardness-Vacuum-Shaft-guide-Endoscopy
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This paper reports some recent analysis and modeling results obtained while developing a tele-robotic system for minimally invasive surgery of the throat. One of the main enabling components of this system is a Distal Dexterity Unit that implements a novel design using a flexible multi-backbone snake-like unit with actuation redundancy and push-pull actuation. The design of this snake-like unit is compared to other alternative designs that use a single flexible-backbone and wire-actuation. A unified kinematic and virtual work model is used to perform this comparison between a multi-backbone snake like unit with an equal-diameter snake-like unit using a single flexible backbone and wire actuation. The comparison is presented for several actuation redundancy resolutions that minimize the load on the flexible backbones. The results show that the multi-backbone design is superior to the alternative wire-actuated designs using a single flexible backbone. The advantages manifest in smaller required actuation forces on the backbones and, as a result, a reduced risk of buckling of the backbones and enhanced potential downsize scalability.
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8 sandpile, the material is fragile in the sense that a slight change in direction of the applied stress will change the entire structure of the force chains that give the pile its rigidi-ty. Because there is no obvious relation con-necting stress to strain throughout the pile, Cates et al. bypass the strain altogether and propose a relation between different compo-nents of the stress tensor 2,3 . This continues to be a hotly debated assumption 4,6–8 . Cates et al. suggest that one way to re-concile the two approaches is to allow the particles to deform, so that the material can respond elastically to sufficiently small loads. One example of a system that is jammed and yet not fragile is foam. Shaving foam, for example, is jammed because the bubbles are tightly packed together under an isotropic stress, namely atmospheric pres-sure. If it were fragile, it would respond plas-tically to a shear stress, no matter how small. However, because bubbles deform, foam actually responds elastically as long as the stress is below a threshold value. Sand grains also deform slightly. Hence, for real systems, a continuum elastic description will always be useful. However, the new concept of fragile matter brings a valuable perspective from the opposite limit of completely non-deformable particles. We would like to point out that the class of jammed materials may actually be broader than the authors suggest. They consider jamming only in systems with no attractive interactions (where the particle dynamics are constrained through an applied stress) and where the individual particles are large so that there is no thermal motion. These two constraints may not be essential. We know from studies of liquids and glasses that a system with attractive interac-tions often behaves in the same way as anoth-er that has only repulsive forces but is con-fined in a container (that constrains its den-sity). In the case of jamming, the opposite situation may be possible: that is, one might be able to replace the constraints of an exter-nal pressure or stress with an attractive inter-action between the particles. Thus, a super-cooled liquid can be jammed into a glass sim-ply by lowering the temperature, not by applying a stress. When a liquid is cooled below its freezing point, its viscosity increas-es rapidly. Eventually, it falls out of equilibri-um into a disordered solid, or glass, where it only explores a small part of phase space, just as in the case of a jammed granular material or foam. So might the concept of jamming and fragility include microscopic systems with attractive interactions, which unjam as one raises the temperature, as well as stressed macroscopic systems with repulsive interac-tions, which unjam as one applies an incom-patible stress? We have sketched a speculative phase diagram for jamming (Fig. 1) that ties the different systems together. This phase diagram depends on temperature, load and density. According to this picture, jamming can occur only when the density is high enough. One can then unjam the system either by raising temperature or by applying a stress. The phase diagram raises some interesting questions: for example, a glass may have a lower glass transition temperature under high shear stress. Likewise, a jammed granu-lar material or foam may have a lower yield stress when random motions (that is, ther-mal fluctuations) are present. This would explain the beneficial role of banging on jammed conduits on the factory floor. Whether jammed systems indeed share features that can be described by a phase dia-gram is an open question, but if our specula-tion has any merit it would bring together several different types of behaviour under one rubric. Are the dynamics of different systems approaching the jammed state also similar? If temperature and applied stress play similar roles in unjamming systems, is it possible that driven, macroscopic, athermal systems like granular materials and foams might be described in terms of an effective temperature? Is statistical mechanics useful at all in describing these systems? These and related questions will take years to resolve, but the picture of Cates et al. helps to point out some of the interesting conceptual problems that need to be addressed.
Mohammad Saadatfar has reviewed a range of granular material theories and numerical simulation techniques. He has made an effort to find the way these techniques can be used to simulate granular materials simulated on computers. He states that granular packing can be simulated, by creating all of the system's potential states through Monte Carlo (MC) simulation, or by calculating that forces that each particle experiences in the packing, and integrating the equation of motion to obtain the new positions of the particle. The new positions of particle can be obtained through the molecular dynamics (MD) simulation approach. A number of major sequential, or concurrent simulation techniques are also used in simulating granular materials. The system has a small number of fixed particles, as its starting configuration in sequential methods. The entire set of particles is present from initial stages of the simulation in concurrent methods.
Continuum robotic manipulators articulate due to their inherent compliance. Tendon actuation leads to compression of the manipulator, extension of the actuators, and is limited by the practical constraint that tendons cannot support compression. In light of these observations, we present a new linear model for transforming desired beam configuration to tendon displacements and vice versa . We begin from first principles in solid mechanics by analyzing the effects of geometrically nonlinear tendon loads. These loads act both distally at the termination point and proximally along the conduit contact interface. The resulting model simplifies to a linear system including only the bending and axial modes of the manipulator as well as the actuator compliance. The model is then manipulated to form a concise mapping from beam configuration-space parameters to n redundant tendon displacements via the internal loads and strains experienced by the system. We demonstrate the utility of this model by implementing an optimal feasible controller. The controller regulates axial strain to a constant value while guaranteeing positive tendon forces and minimizing their magnitudes over a range of articulations. The mechanics-based model from this study provides insight as well as performance gains for this increasingly ubiquitous class of manipulators.