Soft material robots have gained interest in recent years due to the mechanical potential of non-rigid materials and technological development in the additive manufacturing (3D printing) techniques. The incorporation of soft materials provides robots with potential for locomotion in unstructured environments due to the conformability and deformability properties of the structure. Current additive manufacturing techniques allow multimaterial printing which can be utilized to build soft bodied robots with rigid-material inclusions/features in a single process, single batch (low manufacturing volumes) thus saving on both design prototype time and need for complex tools to allow multimaterial manufacturing. However, design and manufacturing of such deformable robots needs to be analyzed and formalized using state of the art tools.
This work conceptualizes methodology for motor-tendon actuated soft-bodied robots capable of locomotion. The methodology relies on additive manufacturing as both a prototyping tool and a primary manufacturing tool and is categorized into body design & development, actuation and control design. This methodology is applied to design a soft caterpillar-like biomimetic robot with soft deformable body, motor-tendon actuators which utilizes finite contact points to effect locomotion. The versatility of additive manufacturing is evident in the complex designs that are possible when implementing unique actuation techniques contained in a soft body robot (Modulus discrepancy); For the given motor-tendon actuation, the hard tendons are embedded inside the soft material body which acts as both a structure and an actuator. Furthermore, the modular design of soft/hard component coupling is only possible due to this manufacturing technique and often eliminates the need for joining and fasteners. The multi-materials are also used effectively to manipulate friction by utilizing soft/hard material frictional interaction disparity.