Editorial Feature

Fluid-Driven Robotic Systems | A Guide

In the rapidly evolving landscape of robotics, fluid-driven robotic systems are gaining momentum. These systems utilize fluids as a core component of their design, offering a unique set of advantages and applications across a multitude of industries, including medical procedures, underwater exploration and precision manufacturing. 

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Understanding Fluid-Filled Robotics

Fluid-filled robotic systems are a groundbreaking innovation that involves the integration of fluids, either liquid, gas or both, into the structure and functionality of robots. The primary advantage of using fluids in robotics lies in their adaptability since fluids can conform to various shapes, allowing robots to navigate through complex environments, tight spaces, and irregular surfaces with greater ease compared to traditional rigid robots. Moreover, fluids can act as an added safety layer by absorbing impact forces and minimizing damage in case of collisions.

The type of fluid used in fluid-filled robot systems depends on the specific requirements and application. For instance, hydraulics, pneumatics, and even smart fluids that change their properties in response to external stimuli are utilized, each type offering distinct advantages in terms of force transmission, energy efficiency, and precision.

Components and Design Principles

The key components of fluid-filled robotic systems are carefully designed to maximize efficiency and maneuverability. Flexible and waterproof materials play a pivotal role in ensuring the integrity of these systems by allowing the robots to change shape and adapt to their environment while preventing fluid leakage and contamination.

Design principles for fluid-filled robots focus on optimizing their capabilities with respect to intended applications, operational environment and desired range of motion. Engineers strategically position fluid chambers and actuators to achieve precise movement and control, enabling robots to excel in various tasks through meticulous design refinement.

Working Mechanisms and Control Systems

Fluid-filled robots derive their movement by controlling the flow and pressure of fluids within the robot's chambers and actuators, enabling robots to perform tasks that would be challenging for traditional rigid robots.

Control mechanisms for fluid-driven robotic systems depend on the type and application. Still, generally, they involve pumps, valves, and, increasingly, advanced algorithms powered by artificial intelligence, taking into account various parameters such as sensor data, environmental conditions, and the desired task.

A specific example of a working mechanism is a robotic actuator system known as Pneu-Net, which operates through the inflation of multiple internally connected cavities within an elastomer layer, causing it to bend towards an inelastic bottom layer due to differences in elasticity.

To improve efficiency, researchers introduced gaps between chambers, reducing air chamber repulsion and increasing deformation angles, enabling various applications such as pneumatic grippers and robotic hands for packaging.

Applications Across Industries

Fluid-filled robotic systems have found remarkable applications across a diverse array of industries, revolutionizing their respective domains.

In the medical field, these systems are transforming minimally invasive surgeries and drug delivery since the adaptability of fluid-filled robots enables surgeons to navigate complex anatomical structures with greater precision, reducing patient trauma and recovery times.

For instance, in a recent study published in 2023, researchers introduced a novel fluidic actuation system inspired by the natural hydrostatic skeleton and protrusion mechanism of marine worms, specifically the sipunculid species Phascolosoma Stephensoni. This soft linear fluidic actuator combines pneumatic and hydraulic principles, enabling it to achieve up to 50% strain of its initial length and generate remarkable output forces, reaching 18 N in larger prototypes. According to the researchers, this innovative bioinspired actuator holds promise for advancing fluidic actuators and potentially finding applications in the medical field.

Underwater exploration benefits significantly from fluid-filled robots, particularly in deep-sea research and maintenance. Traditional rigid robots face challenges in underwater environments due to water pressure and the need for delicate maneuvering, whereas fluid-filled robots can adapt to the changing pressures and navigate intricate underwater ecosystems, aiding scientific research and maintaining underwater infrastructure.

In manufacturing, fluid-driven robots excel in tasks that require precision handling of delicate materials and intricate assembly processes. Their adaptability allows them to manipulate objects with varying shapes and sizes, making them invaluable in the electronics, aerospace, and automotive manufacturing industries. For instance, Fluidic Flexible Matrix Composite (F2MC) manipulators made of flexible materials and filled with fluids can perform intricate and precise movements, making them suitable for tasks like polishing, deburring, and inspecting manufactured parts.

Current Challenges and Future Prospects

Despite their promising potential, fluid-filled robotic systems also face challenges that need to be addressed, such as maintenance and leakage issues that can arise due to the complexity of fluid-filled structures. Ensuring fluid compatibility is crucial to prevent adverse reactions between fluids and materials. Moreover, control accuracy remains a challenge, particularly in intricate tasks that require fine manipulation.

However, ongoing research and innovation are actively tackling these challenges by developing improved materials, advanced sealing techniques, and enhanced control algorithms to enhance the reliability and performance of fluid-filled robots. As these advancements continue to unfold, the future prospects for fluid-filled robotic systems are incredibly promising.

Conclusion

In conclusion, fluid-filled robotic systems represent a transformative innovation with the ability to adapt to complex environments and perform a wide range of tasks in industries like medicine, underwater exploration, and manufacturing. While they face maintenance and control accuracy challenges, ongoing research promises to enhance their reliability and performance, paving the way for a future where these systems play a pivotal role in shaping technological advancements across various domains.

Continue reading: A Guide to Fluid Mechanics in Robotics.

References and Further Reading

Bu, K., et al. (2022). Biomimetic aquatic robots based on fluid-driven actuators: A review. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1312/10/6/735

Filogna, S., et al. (2023). A bioinspired fluid-filled soft linear actuator. Soft Robotics. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1089%2Fsoro.2021.0091

Peters, J., et al. (2019). Actuation and stiffening in fluid-driven soft robots using low-melting-point material. In 2019 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) . IEEE. pp. 4692-4698. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1109/IROS40897.2019.8967764

Polygerinos, P., et al. (2017). Soft robotics: Review of fluid‐driven intrinsically soft devices; manufacturing, sensing, control, and applications in human‐robot interaction. Advanced Engineering Materials. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/adem.201700016

Shan, Y., et al. (2009). Variable stiffness structures utilizing fluidic flexible matrix composites. Journal of Intelligent Material Systems and Structures. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1045389X08095270

Umedachi, T., et al. (2012). Fluid-filled soft-bodied amoeboid robot inspired by plasmodium of true slime mold. Advanced Robotics. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1163/156855312X626316

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Taha Khan

Written by

Taha Khan

Taha graduated from HITEC University Taxila with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. During his studies, he worked on several research projects related to Mechanics of Materials, Machine Design, Heat and Mass Transfer, and Robotics. After graduating, Taha worked as a Research Executive for 2 years at an IT company (Immentia). He has also worked as a freelance content creator at Lancerhop. In the meantime, Taha did his NEBOSH IGC certification and expanded his career opportunities.  

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