Yale researchers have developed a form of robotic technology that can animate the inanimate and turn everyday objects into robots.
This new "Robotic Skins" technology flips the motion that robotics refers to something rigid, heavy, and built for a specific purpose completely on its head.
Developed in the lab of Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, robotic skins enable users to design their own robotic systems.
Although the skins are designed with no specific task in mind, Kramer-Bottiglio said they could be used for everything from search-and-rescue robots to wearable technologies.
The skins are made from elastic sheets embedded with sensors and actuators. Placed on a deformable object - such as a stuffed animal or a foam tube - the skins animate these objects from their surfaces.
The makeshift robots can also perform different tasks depending on the properties of the soft objects and how the skins are applied.
"We can take the skins and wrap them around one object to perform a task, locomotion, for example, and then take them off and put them on a different object to perform a different task, such as grasping and moving an object," Kramer-Bottiglio explained.
"We can then take those same skins off that object and put them on a shirt to make an active wearable device."
She added that they can also be used in settings that hadn't even been considered when they were designed.
Additionally, using more than one skin at a time allows for more complex movements. For instance, Kramer-Bottiglio said, you can layer the skins to get different types of motion.
"Now we can get combined modes of actuation, for example, simultaneous compression and bending."
To demonstrate the robotic skins in action, the researchers created a handful of prototypes. These include foam cylinders that move like an inchworm, a shirt-like wearable device designed to correct poor posture, and a device with a gripper that can grasp and move objects.
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