RIGID ELEMENTS BASED SHAPE-MORPHING MECHANISMS (RESM) ENABLED BIOINSPIRED AND SOFT MEDICAL MECHATRONICS
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Soft mechatronics is generally made of soft materials or soft mechanisms with a continuously deformable structure. Compared to the rigid mechatronics, soft mechatronics can adapt to intimate human contact due to its comfortable, light-weight, resilient to the collision properties, and its softness can prevent injuries and can also be used to handle soft, fragile and complicated shape objects. This makes soft mechatronics very suitable for the Human Machine Interaction (HMI) designs and application in the field of biomedicine and health care, including HMI rescue interfaces, wearable medical mechatronics systems, prosthetics and life-aid or socially assistive mechatronics systems, drug delivery devices, minimally invasive surgery tools, and medical implants. These designs and applications are significantly impacting and revolutionizing the field by allowing reconfigurability, conformability, and safe interfaces with users, objects, and unstructured environments.However, they are many research issues and challenges remaining in current soft mechatronic systems, including complex modeling of soft structure and control difficulty due to highly nonlinear dynamics, low actuation accuracy and power efficiency, and small load capability due to weak softness modulation. These problems limit the potential applications of soft mechatronics in the medical field and are still the hurdles in front of extending soft-mechanics based HMI technologies.Different from existing soft mechatronic/robotic mechanisms, in this dissertation, we propose and develop a novel mechanism, called rigid elements based shape-morphing mechanism (RESM), that is a highly novel semi-soft or semi-rigid solution to tackle significant technical challenges of the currently existing systems. The mechanism adopts both active and passive rigid scissor elements/arrays with variable stiffness and low degrees of freedom (DOF) to form the actively soft morphing structure. The articulating morphing structure has the capability of accurately configuring the system shape and producing significant forces, which allows it to be compliant and robust enough to adapt to contacts and impacts but stiff enough to apply required forces. These advantages are far beyond what is possible with a purely compliant structure or soft body in existing soft mechatronic/robotic systems.In summary, such a new soft mechatronic mechanism promises high deformation, high DOF, high speed, compact and deployed configuration, accurate dynamic modeling and effective and efficient control performance, which are generally unachievable in current existing soft mechanisms.Based on the proposed RESM mechanism, we have successfully investigated several bioinspired and soft mechatronic systems and their actuation methodologies, including (1) a worm-like soft robot with the segmental muscle-mimetic design units that efficiently mimics worm’s segmental muscle contractions and extensions; (2) a capsule-like soft robot that borrows both the isovolumetric deformation ability of the biological capsule for achieving the best pass-through capacity and inch-worm locomotion advantage for efficient crawling; and (3) a deformable quad-rotor for environmental and space adaptation and high efficiency aerial manipulation/grasping. These RESM enabled soft mechatronic systems are being facilitated towards soft medical stents, soft medical capsules, deployable medical drones with soft grippers for broader applications in biomedicine and healthcare. Relying on promising results from extensive simulation and experiments, we foresee the RESM mechanism enabled soft mechatronics will be a competitive and innovative technical solution to boost medical HMI applications in the future.