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  • - These are soft robots.

  • Their structural components are built,

  • not out of metal or wood,

  • but flexible materials like plastic tubing.

  • But how do they work?

  • and why would you want a soft robot in the first place?

  • This video was sponsored by KiwiCo.

  • Check out their robots at the end of the show.

  • (machine blowing)

  • So I came up to Stanford

  • to meet Zach Hammond and his soft robot.

  • How's it going?

  • All right, you want to tip it?

  • So is the idea that the robot could walk this way?

  • - Totally, yeah.

  • So you can kind of chain these rolls together

  • to kind of roll around in any environment.

  • They call this punctuated rolling locomotion.

  • Wherein it's kind of stuck

  • on a face until it tips over and now it's on a new face and it can then continue to

  • move its center of gravity. Once that center of gravity exits the support polygon or the

  • base, then it tips over one of the edges of the face.

  • - This is a different soft robot made out of flexible tubing. It was designed to mimic

  • the way a turtle walks, where diagonally opposite legs move together. It's powered entirely

  • by compressed air and perhaps most impressive, it requires no electronics. All of the circuitry

  • is pneumatic and this means the robot can be used in places like mines, where electronics

  • could spark explosions, or in the strong magnetic fields around MRI machines. But why would

  • you want a soft robot in the first place?

  • - One of the things that I like to do is just to take the robot and kind of like beat it

  • up a little bit and show how it's compliant and compressive.

  • - Nope, because they're safer.

  • - If you'd like to take a whack at it, you know, feel free.

  • - But I don't think this is your work, I don't want to break it, obviously.

  • - No, feel free, go for it

  • - For operation around humans, there's not much damage a soft robot can do to you. I

  • can stand on these?

  • - Yep.

  • - This is a pretty crazy compliant robot.

  • - Because the the fundamental structure of this robot is compliant, there's only some

  • maximum force that it could ever exert on me. So it's inherently safe to be operating

  • around people.

  • - Could we make it fall and have me be inside it?

  • - Yeah. Yeah, we could do that for sure. Just watch your head.

  • - Yep, if I go over here.

  • - If you're there, yeah, we can do that.

  • - All right, let's try it. Here it comes. Well, that's not bad at all. Is it?

  • - I can try another shape. That's supposed to open up one of the faces, so you can jump

  • out of it quickly.

  • - Okay.

  • - I haven't tested it in a little while, so...

  • - Sure.

  • - I don't know how it's gonna go, but let's try this. There you go that's the face right

  • there to your right and you can exit the trust from that face.

  • - Boom.

  • - Perfect.

  • - Just that easy. Did you build this by yourself?

  • - Me and one other grad student built this entire thing ourselves, basically.

  • - And how long did it take?

  • - We did it in about a month, I want to say, like actually constructing everything.

  • - And was it tricky? I mean, were you sewing that stuff?

  • - Yep, we sewed this all ourselves.

  • - The main structural members of this robot are fabric tubes inflated with air.

  • - Yeah, so these red tubes are a nylon fabric and then internally, there is a polyethylene

  • tube that provides the air tightness.

  • - The tubes are inflated to about six PSI above atmospheric. So it's almost one and

  • a half atmospheres. Each tube passes through pairs of rollers connected to a motor. The

  • rollers pinch the tube, so it bends kind of like a pinched straw.

  • - Add the rods and then we have this like high friction material wrapped around the

  • rods. And then that coupled with the fact that we have this pressurized tube that's

  • kind of pushing the membrane of the tube into the rollers, prevents us from slipping.

  • - By driving the motor, it changes the length of the tubes.

  • - Kind of like when a clown creates a twist in a balloon and then folds that balloon into

  • a balloon animal. The difference between what the clown does and what we do is that there's

  • some passage of air between adjacent segments of the tube. So that as the robot drives around,

  • we're not pressurizing the segments of the tube.

  • - This robot is made of four inflated tubes, each one connected to a pair of motors, forming

  • triangular sides.

  • - We also think that they kind of look like sausage links when put together, which is

  • why we've named these robots after different sausages. So this one's called Polish, that

  • one over there is Chorizo, There's a Linguica and a kielbasa over there somewhere.

  • - So what shape is the overall thing? It's an octahedron?

  • - Yeah, we call it an octahedron because if you drew lines between these kind of kinematic

  • joints here, it would create an octahedral shape.

  • - Driving the motors together, allows the robot to dramatically change shape. It can

  • get very tall or short and squat. But since the tubes themselves don't change in length,

  • the overall perimeter of the robot, the length of all the edges combined doesn't change.

  • So the robot is considered isoparametric. How do you feel when you watch those Boston

  • Dynamics videos?

  • - Oh, I love those videos, they're so cool.

  • - The Boston Dynamics robots are kind of terrifying.

  • - Mm-hmm.

  • - I guess and the idea with soft robots, it's to like convince people that robots are good

  • and soft and kind, and friendly and fake?

  • - That's definitely true, yeah. There are some things that you can do to rigid systems

  • to make them feel like compliant systems based on how you're controlling the motors. But

  • yeah, they're definitely, you know, heavy expensive and can be dangerous if they're

  • not used correctly.

  • - The hard robots we're used to are strong and precise. Their actions are accurate and

  • repeatable, but they are also heavy and they can't really change their volume as dramatically,

  • but this robot is still capable of carrying a heavy load.

  • - So I have a GUI in MATLAB.

  • - Oh nice.

  • - That enables me to just put in the positions that I want the robots to move in inches and

  • then send them out. There's another other functionality of some like stored configurations

  • to send to the robots.

  • - Soft robots also have the advantage of shape changing. They can become tall to go over

  • obstacles or short to fit under obstructions.

  • - So if there is some rock that it didn't see or that it wanted to roll over. It could

  • simply do that and the compliance of the tubes would simply just bend around that disturbance.

  • - Do you imagine robots like this doing work in space?

  • - Oh yeah, definitely.

  • - So one of the nice things about these types of structures is that they can shrink down

  • their volume very drastically. And because volume on rockets is such an expensive premium,

  • being able to have a robot that can pack down small for transport is very valuable. So NASA

  • was at one point looking into trust robots for exactly that reason. And they've contacted

  • us since we've made this robot to explore different ideas for space exploration projects.

  • So one of the things that they're thinking about doing is deploying robots underneath

  • a sheet of ice. So they're gonna drill through this sheet of ice and then deposit a robot

  • through what is a kind of a small diameter hole. And so if you can have a robot that

  • can change its volume very drastically or be disassembled and then reassembled to form

  • like a much larger structure. Then you can have large robots that are able to fit through

  • these tight spaces and be deployed in kind of difficult to access areas.

  • - Is this a little bit like an octopus? Is that how you could think of it?

  • - There is some connection there because they use their shape changing ability and their

  • compliance to squeeze through tight passageways, and then also to wrap their body around objects.

  • So for example, they can open jars with their tentacles, and one of the things that we want

  • to use this robot for is grasping and manipulating objects.

  • - So this robot is even capable of picking objects up off the ground.

  • - We'll try that and see if we can grab it. Because of the compliance of the tubes, it

  • has a natural ability to grasp and manipulate objects because as it does so, the tubes bend

  • ever so slightly, which increases the contact area and distributes evenly, the forces that

  • are exerted on the object.

  • - So, I mean is the biggest risk if it pops?

  • - Yeah, that's a a big risk. I mean you obviously need the compressed air for your structure

  • and so if you have a leak. Oh. Then you don't have a robot, right?

  • - It's a pretty big drawback of soft robots.

  • - You know, some things that you could do to mitigate that would be to have onboard

  • a small compressor, which isn't there to provide power to the robot, but would help you maintain

  • pressure, if there were any small leaks.

  • - when you tell someone you're working on a robot and they see this, does it defy expectations?

  • - Totally. They have no idea what it is I'm talking about until I show them like a video

  • or a picture. I think most people's conception of soft robots was really expanded by the

  • movie Big Hero 6. And I think they did a great job in kind of showcasing what a soft robot

  • can do and why they're useful, and kind of just popularizing the notion. It's really

  • great to have compliance built into any mechanical system, especially as we want robots to work

  • closer and closer with humans. So I think we'll definitely see more soft robots in the

  • future.

  • - Hey, this video was sponsored by KiwiCo and since I was up in the Bay Area, I got

  • to visit KiwiCo headquarters which was mostly empty because COVID, but I met with a few

  • designers who make the awesome projects that come in KiwiCo crates.

  • - There you go.

  • - Oh boy.

  • - And I'm not gonna lie, it kind of seems like the best job. I was in awe of some of

  • the ideas they have brought to life. Dude, that's cool. Look at that. You know, KiwiCo

  • offers eight subscription lines for kids of all ages and everything you need comes right

  • in the box, so that means no running out to the store. Each create, not only gets kids

  • making and having fun, but also learning about STEAM concepts. KiwiCo believes that kids

  • are often better at thinking big and as a father of three kids, I know that to be true.

  • If I can get them learning little things every day that can all add up to a big perspective

  • change in how they see the world. So for viewers of this video, KiwiCo is offering 50% off

  • your first month of any crate. Just go to kiwico.com/veritasium50 I will put that link

  • down in the description. So I want to thank KiwiCo for sponsoring Veritasium and I want

  • to thank you for watching.

- These are soft robots.

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B1 US robot soft tube kind compliant shape

Why Robots That Bend Are Better

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    Rocky posted on 2021/03/13
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