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8 March 2014 Soft segmented inchworm robot with dielectric elastomer muscles
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Robotic devices typically utilize rigid components in order to produce precise and robust operation. Rigidity becomes a significant impediment, however, when navigating confined or constricted environments e.g. search-and-rescue, industrial pipe inspection. In such cases adaptively conformable soft structures become optimal. Dielectric elastomers (DEs) are well suited for developing such soft robots since they are inherently compliant and can produce large musclelike actuation strains. In this paper, a soft segmented inchworm robot is presented that utilizes pneumatically-coupled DE membranes to produce inchworm-like locomotion. The robot is constructed from repeated body segments, each with a simple control architecture, so that the total length can be readily adapted by adding or removing segments. Each segment consists of a soft inflatable shell (internal pressure in range of 1.0-15.9 mBar) and a pair of antagonistic DE membranes (VHB 4905). Experimental testing of a single body segment is presented and the relationship between drive voltage, pneumatic pressure and active displacement is characterized. This demonstrates that pneumatic coupling of DE membranes induces complex non-linear electro-mechanical behaviour as drive voltage and pneumatic pressure are altered. Locomotion of a two-segment inchworm robot prototype with a passive length of 80 mm is presented. Artificial setae are included on the body shell to generate anisotropic friction for locomotion. A maximum locomotion speed of 4.1 mm/s was recorded at a drive frequency of 1.5 Hz, which compares favourably to biological counterparts. Future development of the soft inchworm robot are discussed including reflexive low-level control of individual segments.
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Andrew T. Conn, Andrew D. Hinitt, and Pengchuan Wang "Soft segmented inchworm robot with dielectric elastomer muscles", Proc. SPIE 9056, Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD) 2014, 90562L (8 March 2014);

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