(USA)

Robots will now have the ability to twist and shake, thanks to a new tool developed by American researchers.

Designing robots which can mimic natural human movements – like bending a finger – is a major challenge but now researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed a method to automatically design soft actuators based on the desired movement.

“Rather than designing these actuators empirically, we wanted a tool where you could plug in a motion and it would tell you how to design the actuator to achieve that motion,” said Katia Bertoldi, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences and coauthor of the paper.

The research is published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The design is so complicated because one actuator type is not enough to produce complex motions,” said Fionnuala Connolly, a graduate student at SEAS and first author of the paper. “You need a sequence of actuator segments, each performing a different motion and you want to actuate them using a single input.”

Conor Walsh, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute and coauthor of the paper, added: “This research streamlines the process of designing soft robots that can perform complex movements. It can be used to design a robot arm that moves along a certain path or a wearable robot that assists with motion of a limb.”