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A breakthrough for soft robotics

What's New? | March 8, 2021 | By:

Soft robotic clothing that could help people to move more easily is a step closer to reality with the development of a new flexible and lightweight power system for soft robotics. Researchers from Bristol University, Bristol, U.K., have successfully demonstrated a new electro-pneumatic pump that is soft, bendable, low-cost, easy to make and about the same size as a credit card.

The electro-pneumatic pump (right) along with wallet cards for scale. Photo: Tim Helps, University of Bristol. 

SoftLab and Bristol Robotics Laboratory scientists, led by Jonathan Rossiter, professor of Robotics, believe the new pump could pave the way for wearable assist devices for people with disabilities and people suffering from age-related muscle degeneration.  

Soft robots are made from compliant materials that can stretch and twist. These materials can be made into artificial muscles that contract when air is pumped into them. The softness of these muscles makes then suited to powering assistive clothing. However, these pneumatic artificial muscles have been powered by conventional electromagnetic (motor-driven) pumps, which are bulky, noisy, complex and expensive.

Prof. Rossiter from the Dept. of Engineering Mathematics at Bristol and head of the Soft Robotics group at BRL, said, “The lives of thousands of people with mobility issues could be transformed with this new technology.  The new pumps are an important development that will help us deliver comfortable and stylish power-assisting clothing. We are now working to make the electro-pneumatic pumps smaller and more efficient.”

The team is actively seeking partners to assist with commercializing the new technology. Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) is an academic center for multi-disciplinary robotics research in the UK. A paper on the research led by Prof. Rossiter was recently published in the journal Science Robotics

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