WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- NASA is reportedly designing flexible robots that can acclimatize to any type of environment which can possibly traverse worlds besides Earth.
- Assigned to improve the actuators, which are components that manipulate the robot’s movement, two interns are now investigating how these could work in actual space exploration.
- The robots which are soft and pliant were created by 3D-printing a mold then poured into flexible substances like silicone.
NASA is creating “soft robots” that can be potentially employed to survey worlds past the Earth including the moon which may be astronauts’ next major destination.
Soft robots are being used due to its pliability and adaptability to new environments. Their movements are also similar to living organisms in a way that it can enlarge its range of motion making it easier to squeeze into a narrow spot.
Chuck Sullivan and Jack Fitzpatrick are two interns at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia who are tasked to develop soft robot actuators, the machine components that direct the moving parts of a robot.
“When you actuate the soft robot, it changes how you use the material properties. A piece of rubber going from flat to the shape of a finger, it changes the material into something else,” explained Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
Although the design is still in its early stages and far from being space-ready, the interns are currently testing how these actuators would operate in an actual space mission. The actuators were built by the interns by 3D-printing a mold then pouring it into a flexible substance such as silicone.
In a statement, NASA said the actuator is designed as having air bladders that balloon or compress depending on the amount of air in them. To allow the two interns to control the robot’s movement, they run the design by adjusting the air volume in the chamber of the actuator. As a result, the robot can flex and relax like a human muscle.
The interns are specifically focused on how to use the four significant properties of the actuators- mobility, joining, leveling and shaping- in space exploration. While mobility points to how the robot moves in its environment, joining refers to how robots can connect together. Leveling shows how actuators can generate a surface and shaping explores ways of adding dust shields to strengthen materials.
Sullivan said that once these four things are achieved in separate unit tests, they will next think of ways to merge them.
Both interns are part of a bigger working team including principal investigator and computer engineer James Neilan and co-principal investigator and aerospace research engineer Matt Mahlin, both of whom built this intern project at NASA to determine how well soft robots would function in space.
NASA announced that researchers and robotics experts from across the country will visit Langley to provide the interns critiques on their soft robotics which they will continue to improve for the whole summer.
Source: Live Science