Spring 2011 GRASP Seminar - Richard Voyles, NSF & University of Denver, "Structured Computational Polymers: Intelligent Materials for Next-Generation Robotics"
In this talk, I will describe steps we are taking towards the fabrication of new types of intelligent polymers as building blocks for soft robots. Using shape deposition manufacturing techniques, we are attempting to produce 1-D, 2-D and 3-D stock polymers that incorporate sensing, actuation, cognition, and structure into convenient, specifiable components. Our cognitive architecture is based on fully-interconnected Synthetic Neural Networks, which implement parallel artificial neurons from polymer electronics. We have produced memristors (bistable, programmable resistors) to create artificial synapses and have a simple design for a single-transistor artificial soma to achieve a sigmoidal activation function, yielding the possibility of producing synthetic, trainable, massively parallel cognitive circuits. Our actuation mechanisms, which traditionally have been difficult to achieve in all-polymer materials with usable power levels, are based on active and passive fluids. We are using "active" fluid-based actuation schemes, such as water hammer based impulsive actuation, to channel meaningful forces for actuation as well as "passive" fluid-based actuation from electrorheological and magnetorheological fluids which can be used to dampen forces.