Electroadhesive Clutches for Programmable Shape Morphing of Soft Actuators

February 8th, 2023

Soft robotic actuators are safe and adaptable devices with inherent compliance, which makes them attractive for manipulating delicate and complex objects. Researchers have integrated stiff materials into soft actuators to increase their force capacity and direct their deformation. However, these embedded materials have largely been pre-prescribed and static, which constrains the actuators to a predetermined range of motion. In this work, electroadhesive (EA) clutches integrated on a single-chamber soft pneumatic actuator (SPA) provide local programmable stiffness modulation to control the actuator deformation. We show that activating different clutch patterns inflates a silicone membrane into pyramidal, round, and plateau shapes. Curvatures from these shapes are combined during actuation to apply forces on both a 3.7 g and 820 g object along five different degrees of freedom (DoF). The actuator workspace is up to 12 mm for light objects. Clutch deactivation, which results in local elastomeric expansion, rapidly applies forces up to 3.2 N to an object resting on the surface and launches a 3.7 g object in controlled directions. The actuator also rotates a heavier, 820 g, object by 5 degrees and rapidly restores it to horizontal alignment after clutch deactivation. This actuator is fully powered by a 5 V battery, AA battery, DC-DC transformer, and 4.5 V (63 g) DC air pump. These results demonstrate a first step towards realizing a soft actuator with high DoF shape change that preserves the inherent benefits of pneumatic actuation while gaining the electrical controllability and strength of EA clutches. We envision such a system supplying human contact forces in the form of a low-profile sit-to-stand assistance device, bed-ridden patient manipulator, or other ergonomic mechanism.