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Design and Fabrication of a Universal Soft Gripper
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Inspired from nature, soft robots capable of actively tuning their mechanical rigidity can rapidly transition between a broad range of motor tasks, from lifting heavy loads to dexterous manipulation of delicate objects. Reversible rigidity tuning also enables soft roboticactuators to reroute their internal loading and alter their mode of deformation in response to intrinsic activation. In this study, we demonstrate this principle with a three-fingered pneumatic gripper that contains programmable ligaments that change stiness when activated with electrical current. The ligaments are composed of a conductive thermoplastic elastomer composite that reversibly softens under resistive heating. Depending on which ligaments are activated, the gripper will bend inward to pick up an object, bend laterally totwist it, or bend outward to release it.Each finger consists of three PDMS phalanges that are attached with two Ecoflex joints. Three ligaments (strips of a cPBE-PDMS composite layer) are attached along the finger and are stimulated with electricity individually. When the high pressure air is injected inthe hollow middle part of the finger, the finger will be bent in the opposite direction of the stimulated cPBE-PDMS element (softer wall). This enables the gripper’s fingers to grab and twist objects with dierent sizes and shapes.All of the gripper motions are generated with a single pneumatic source of pressure and are controlled with an electrical board. The ability to incorporate electrically programmable ligaments in pneumatic or hydraulic actuators has the potential to enhance versatility andreduce dependency on tubing and valves. In this study, an activation/deactivation cycle can be completed within 15 s.