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Soft Actuators for Specific Motion Types

Having ‘opposable thumbs’ is often one of the traits referred to when somebody is tasked with defining a distinctly human characteristic. It separates us from a host of other members of the animal kingdom.

Essentially, opposable thumbs help us to securely grip items we encounter in our everyday life. From gathering, preparing and eating food, to holding hands with a loved one, our human ability to grasp objects is a trait that we use with extreme frequency.

What is soft robotics?

Soft robotics refers to the sub-field of robotics that deals with the construction of robots that can mimic flexible human behavior. These include grasping, twisting, bending, extending, compressing, and other similar movements. Robots that can successfully replicate these kinds of movements could hold all kinds of benefits for humans, not unlike the soft actuators at Artimus Robotics.

Traditionally, robotic grips consisted of tough joints and extenders that could be dangerous if in contact with humans. Soft robotics is the mission to ‘soften’ these robots, bringing more nuance and lifelike movements. Instead of crushing the life out of anything they come into contact with, ‘soft robotics’ has been able to construct helpful gripping mechanisms that assist in settings such as elderly care and minimally-invasive surgery.

Types of soft actuators

An ‘actuator’ is the soft robotics term for ‘mover’. It describes a system that facilitates the nuanced and elastic movement of a soft robot.

Usually, an actuator is made up of an inextensible layer and a fiber wrapping. When inflated, the actuator can achieve different planes of motion depending on how it is wrapped or designed.

  • Bending. To achieve a bending motion, the actuator needs to be wrapped in symmetrical, double-helical wrapping and a strain-limiting sheet on one side. This style of wrapping prevents the actuator from extending ‘radially’ (perpendicular) and can only do so ‘axially’ (straight) - inducing the bending motion in tandem with the restrictions imposed by the sheet.

  • Extending. To achieve a completely straight extension, a double-helical wrapping is added once again, but the inextensible layer is excluded so that any radial expansion is eliminated.

  • Twisting. The key to replicating a twisting motion with a soft actuator is to use single-helix wrapping instead of double, as mentioned previously.

This is a very basic overview of how actuators can be manipulated to move in different ways. To mimic more human movements, the actuator can be divided into segments with different planes of motion assigned to each. For example, part of an actuator can be made to extend, while another can be for twisting and bending at the same time.

The resulting ability to program robots to produce extending, grabbing, and twisting motions can help humans massively when it comes to manufacturing, medicine, and other fields.


Jack Vale is a writer from Happy Writers, Co. in partnership with fence & event rental supplier Viking Fence.

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