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Programmed Reconfiguration and Locomotion of Untethered Compliant Structures

Connor McMahan
California Institute of Technology

Connor McMahan
Connor McMahan

The aim of this research is to develop architected materials with pre-programmed temporal responses to environmental stimuli. We refer to these materials as “robotic matter”. We envision these materials to be used for the actuation of soft robots, compliant systems and reconfigurable structures, as alternatives to external mechanical motors, control systems and power devices. The ability to program materials’ responses by controlling the microstructure’s geometry and constitutive materials properties offers exciting opportunities for compliant systems that can interact with their environment. By integrating sensing and actuation capability in the passive response of materials to external stimuli, it is possible to program actuation and deformations in a single integrated architecture. Robotic matter enables significant reduction in the mass and volume of deployable structures and soft robots.

This research project focuses on two topics that are important for the development of robotic matter. First, while several stimulus-responsive materials have been used for inducing compelling demonstrations of changes in geometry, temporal programmability has only been shown in a small number of morphing processes that involve the sequential folding of discrete hinges. Our research involves extending this capability to architected materials that can be treated as programmable continua, substantially broadening the range of achievable geometries in shape-morphing systems. Secondly, while the soft robotics community has produced some examples of untethered, passively controlled systems, they are generally limited in their ability to self-propel by a lack of energy density or actuator reversibility. Through this project, we intend to develop soft materials and compliant devices that can undergo repeatable, sequential and energy dense actuation. Finally, we seek to develop a general design methodology for applying these capabilities to the passive control of untethered soft robots, morphing shell structures, and compliant robotic articulations.

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