Bio-inspired intelligent robots are coming of age in both research and industry, propelling market growth for robots and A.I. However, conventional motors limit bio-inspired robotics. EAP actuators and sensors could improve the simplicity, compliance, physical scaling, and offer bio-inspired advantages in robotic locomotion, grasping and manipulation, and social expressions. For EAP actuators to realize their transformative potential, further innovations are needed: the actuators must be robust, fast, powerful, manufacturable, and affordable. This presentation surveys progress, opportunities, and challenges in the author’s latest work in social robots and EAP actuators, and proposes a roadmap for EAP actuators in bio-inspired intelligent robotics.
Social robotics and artificial intelligence have progressed steadily in recent years, appearing in a variety of useful applications and products as well as breakthrough research. However, limitations in conventional motors continue to limit the possibilities of bio-inspired robotics. Such motors are needed for locomotion, grasping and manipulation, and social expressions and gestures. EAP actuators, being more like biological muscle in key regards, could revolutionize the hardware for such robots, if made robust, powerful, and manufacturable at reasonable prices. The author presents a survey of the progress and opportunities for EAP actuators in these fields, and discusses the latest work of his team in developing and manufacturing social robots that could benefit from EAP actuators.
In this paper, the authors explore various ways that designed chambering of elastomers can enhance electroactive polymer (EAP) actuation. Such enhancements include structuring of chambers for various mechanical functions and advantages, boosting of surface area of a polymer for enhanced ionic migration, construction of advanced electret foams for sensing and for tunable hydrophobicity for micro/pumping action, and distribution of composite EAP devices throughout the chambered elastomer to achieve discrete controllability of electroactive polymer actuators. The authors also discuss the chambering of EAP materials themselves for enhanced actuation effects.
With varied design of the chambers of the elastomer, the mechanical and structural properties of the elastomer can be tuned to greatly enhance EAP actuation. The chambers can be designed in accordion-like bellows to achieve extreme elongation with low forces, in spiral geometries to effect negative or neutral poisson's ratio under actuation, and with embedded fluidic bellows for fluidic actuation or sensing. These are but a few examples of the advantages that can be achieved via designed chambering of elastomers.
The authors also discuss various application uses of the described chambering technologies. Such chambered elastomers, combined with advanced muscle-like actuators, can substantially benefit facelike robots (useful for entertainment and education etc), prosthetics, and numerous modalities of bio-inspired locomotion. In the efforts of the authors to generate facial expression robots with low-power lightweight actuators is described.
The characteristics of Electro-actuated polymers (EAP) are typically considered inadequate for applications in robotics. But in recent years, there has been both dramatic increases in EAP technological capbilities and reductions in power requirements for actuating bio-inspired robotics. As the two trends continue to converge, one may anticipate that dramatic breakthroughs in biologically inspired robotic actuation will result due to the marraige of these technologies. This talk will provide a snapshot of how EAP actuator scientists and roboticists may work together on a common platform to accelerate the growth of both technologies. To demonstrate this concept of a platform to accelerate this convergence, the authors will discuss their work in the niche application of robotic facial expression. In particular, expressive robots appear to be within the range of EAP actuation, thanks to their low force requirements. Several robots will be shown that demonstrate realistic expressions with dramatically decreased force requirements. Also, detailed descriptions will be given of the engineering innovations that have enabled these robotics advancements-most notably, Structured-Porosity Elastomer Materials (SPEMs). SPEM manufacturing techniques create delicate cell-structures in a variety of elastomers that maintain the high elongation characteristics of the mother material, but because of the porisity, behave as sponge-materials, thus lower the force required to emulate facial expressions to levels output by several extant EAP actuators.
This paper examines methods of developing electroactive polymer (EAP) actuators for actuating human-like facial expressions in sociable robots. EAP actuators could improve such robots in several ways - they could reduce the mechanical complexity of the robots and the robots' weight and power requirements, potentially leading to robots that are more robust, more easily manufactured and ideal for autonomous mobility. After a discussion of the state of the technique in UTD's face-based communication robots (the Identity Emulation robots project), this paper considers various EAP actuation technologies, and ways of adapting them towards use in these robots.
Applications of this class of human-robot interface devices will rise in relevance as humans and robots begin to have more sociable encounters in the coming years. Key to success in this undertaking is the multi-modal integration of mechanics, sociable intelligence, and design aesthestics and dynamic stable mobility, and the innovation of skin materials that are lighter in weight and deformed with less force. Recent innovations in urethane polymers, described in this paper, have resulted in a humanoid facial skin that is actuated by considerably reduced force (16 to 20 oz.), relative to previously available skin polymers. These actuation requirements may put this facial expression technology within the capabilities of existing EAP actuation technologies.
The classic movie Metropolis (1926), which is nowadays considered a cinema milestone, has shown the possibility to build robots called androids that are science and fiction run together to realize a dream: the human-like robot. In that movie, Dr. Rotwang transforms a simple and cold calculating robot into the body of a beautiful woman. Robots have often been depicted as metal creatures with cold steel bodies, but there is no reason why metals should be the only kind of material for construction of robots. The authors examined the issues related to applying electroactive polymers materials (EAP) to the entertainment industry. EAP are offering attractive characteristics with the potential to produce more realistic models of living creatures at significantly lower cost. This paper seeks to elucidate how EAP might infiltrate and ultimately revolutionize entertainment, showing some applicative examples.