Computational design can excite the full potential of soft robotics that has the drawbacks of being highly nonlinear from material, structure, and contact. Up to date, enthusiastic research interests have been demonstrated for individual soft fingers, but the frame design space (how each soft finger is assembled) remains largely unexplored. Computationally design remains challenging for the finger-based soft gripper to grip across multiple geometrical-distinct object types successfully. Including the design space for the gripper frame can bring huge difficulties for conventional optimisation algorithms and fitness calculation methods due to the exponential growth of high-dimensional design space. This work proposes an automated computational design optimisation framework that generates gripper diversity to individually grasp geometrically distinct object types based on a quality-diversity approach. This work first discusses a significantly large design space (28 design parameters) for a finger-based soft gripper, including the rarely-explored design space of finger arrangement that is converted to various configurations to arrange individual soft fingers. Then, a contact-based Finite Element Modelling (FEM) is proposed in SOFA to output high-fidelity grasping data for fitness evaluation and feature measurements. Finally, diverse gripper designs are obtained from the framework while considering features such as the volume and workspace of grippers. This work bridges the gap of computationally exploring the vast design space of finger-based soft grippers while grasping large geometrically distinct object types with a simple control scheme.
Humans possess a remarkable ability to react to sudden and unpredictable perturbations through immediate mechanical responses, which harness the visco-elastic properties of muscles to perform auto-corrective movements to maintain balance. In this paper, we propose a novel design of a robotic leg inspired by this mechanism. We develop multi-material fibre jammed tendons, and demonstrate their use as passive compliant mechanisms to achieve variable joint stiffness and improve stability. Through numerical simulations and extensive experimentation, we demonstrate the ability for our system to achieve a wide range of potentially beneficial compliance regimes. We show the role and contribution of each tendon quantitatively by evaluating their individual force contribution in resisting rotational perturbations. We also perform walking experiments with programmed bioinspired gaits that varying the stiffness of the tendons throughout the gait cycle, demonstrating a stable and consistent behaviour. We show the potential of such systems when integrated into legged robots, where compliance and shock absorption can be provided entirely through the morphological properties of the leg.
We test grip strength and shock absorption properties of various granular material in granular jamming robotic components. The granular material comprises a range of natural, manufactured, and 3D printed material encompassing a wide range of shapes, sizes, and Shore hardness. Two main experiments are considered, both representing compelling use cases for granular jamming in soft robotics. The first experiment measures grip strength (retention force measured in Newtons) when we fill a latex balloon with the chosen grain type and use it as a granular jamming gripper to pick up a range of test objects. The second experiment measures shock absorption properties recorded by an Inertial Measurement Unit which is suspended in an envelope of granular material and dropped from a set height. Our results highlight a range of shape, size and softness effects, including that grain deformability is a key determinant of grip strength, and interestingly, that larger grain sizes in 3D printed grains create better shock absorbing materials.
Granular jamming has recently become popular in soft robotics with widespread applications including industrial gripping, surgical robotics and haptics. Previous work has investigated the use of various techniques that exploit the nature of granular physics to improve jamming performance, however this is generally underrepresented in the literature compared to its potential impact. We present the first research that exploits vibration-based fluidisation actively (e.g., during a grip) to elicit bespoke performance from granular jamming grippers. We augment a conventional universal gripper with a computer-controllled audio exciter, which is attached to the gripper via a 3D printed mount, and build an automated test rig to allow large-scale data collection to explore the effects of active vibration. We show that vibration in soft jamming grippers can improve holding strength. In a series of studies, we show that frequency and amplitude of the waveforms are key determinants to performance, and that jamming performance is also dependent on temporal properties of the induced waveform. We hope to encourage further study focused on active vibrational control of jamming in soft robotics to improve performance and increase diversity of potential applications.
Fruit harvesting has recently experienced a shift towards soft grippers that possess compliance, adaptability, and delicacy. In this context, pneumatic grippers are popular, due to provision of high deformability and compliance, however they typically possess limited grip strength. Jamming possesses strong grip capability, however has limited deformability and often requires the object to be pushed onto a surface to attain a grip. This paper describes a hybrid gripper combining pneumatics (for deformation) and jamming (for grip strength). Our gripper utilises a torus (donut) structure with two chambers controlled by pneumatic and vacuum pressure respectively, to conform around a target object. The gripper displays good adaptability, exploiting pneumatics to mould to the shape of the target object where jamming can be successfully harnessed to grip. The main contribution of the paper is design, fabrication, and characterisation of the first hybrid gripper that can use granular jamming in free space, achieving significantly larger retention forces compared to pure pneumatics. We test our gripper on a range of different sizes and shapes, as well as picking a broad range of real fruit.
Human operators in human-robot teams are commonly perceived to be critical for mission success. To explore the direct and perceived impact of operator input on task success and team performance, 16 real-world missions (10 hrs) were conducted based on the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. These missions were to deploy a heterogeneous team of robots for a search task to locate and identify artifacts such as climbing rope, drills and mannequins representing human survivors. Two conditions were evaluated: human operators that could control the robot team with state-of-the-art autonomy (Human-Robot Team) compared to autonomous missions without human operator input (Robot-Autonomy). Human-Robot Teams were often in directed autonomy mode (70% of mission time), found more items, traversed more distance, covered more unique ground, and had a higher time between safety-related events. Human-Robot Teams were faster at finding the first artifact, but slower to respond to information from the robot team. In routine conditions, scores were comparable for artifacts, distance, and coverage. Reasons for intervention included creating waypoints to prioritise high-yield areas, and to navigate through error-prone spaces. After observing robot autonomy, operators reported increases in robot competency and trust, but that robot behaviour was not always transparent and understandable, even after high mission performance.
In recent years, soft robotic grasping has rapidly spread through the academic robotics community and pushed into industrial applications. At the same time, multimaterial 3D printing has become widely available, enabling monolithic manufacture of devices containing rigid and elastic section. We propose a novel design technique which leverages both of these technologies and is able to automatically design bespoke soft robotic grippers for fruit-picking and similar applications. We demonstrate the novel topology optimisation formulation which generates multi-material soft gippers and is able to solve both the internal and external pressure boundaries, and investigate methods to produce air-tight designs. Compared to existing methods, it vastly expands the searchable design space whilst increasing simulation accuracy.
Purpose: To improve dynamic speech imaging at 3 Tesla. Methods: A novel scheme combining a 16-channel vocal tract coil, variable density spirals (VDS), and manifold regularization was developed. Short readout duration spirals (1.3 ms long) were used to minimize sensitivity to off-resonance. The manifold model leveraged similarities between frames sharing similar vocal tract postures without explicit motion binning. Reconstruction was posed as a SENSE-based non-local soft weighted temporal regularization scheme. The self-navigating capability of VDS was leveraged to learn the structure of the manifold. Our approach was compared against low-rank and finite difference reconstruction constraints on two volunteers performing repetitive and arbitrary speaking tasks. Blinded image quality evaluation in the categories of alias artifacts, spatial blurring, and temporal blurring were performed by three experts in voice research. Results: We achieved a spatial resolution of 2.4mm2/pixel and a temporal resolution of 17.4 ms/frame for single slice imaging, and 52.2 ms/frame for concurrent 3-slice imaging. Implicit motion binning of the manifold scheme for both repetitive and fluent speaking tasks was demonstrated. The manifold scheme provided superior fidelity in modeling articulatory motion compared to low rank and temporal finite difference schemes. This was reflected by higher image quality scores in spatial and temporal blurring categories. Our technique exhibited faint alias artifacts, but offered a reduced interquartile range of scores compared to other methods in alias artifact category. Conclusion: Synergistic combination of a custom vocal-tract coil, variable density spirals and manifold regularization enables robust dynamic speech imaging at 3 Tesla.
We study the effects of injecting human-generated designs into the initial population of an evolutionary robotics experiment, where subsequent population of robots are optimised via a Genetic Algorithm and MAP-Elites. First, human participants interact via a graphical front-end to explore a directly-parameterised legged robot design space and attempt to produce robots via a combination of intuition and trial-and-error that perform well in a range of environments. Environments are generated whose corresponding high-performance robot designs range from intuitive to complex and hard to grasp. Once the human designs have been collected, their impact on the evolutionary process is assessed by replacing a varying number of designs in the initial population with human designs and subsequently running the evolutionary algorithm. Our results suggest that a balance of random and hand-designed initial solutions provides the best performance for the problems considered, and that human designs are most valuable when the problem is intuitive. The influence of human design in an evolutionary algorithm is a highly understudied area, and the insights in this paper may be valuable to the area of AI-based design more generally.
Curriculum learning allows complex tasks to be mastered via incremental progression over `stepping stone' goals towards a final desired behaviour. Typical implementations learn locomotion policies for challenging environments through gradual complexification of a terrain mesh generated through a parameterised noise function. To date, researchers have predominantly generated terrains from a limited range of noise functions, and the effect of the generator on the learning process is underrepresented in the literature. We compare popular noise-based terrain generators to two indirect encodings, CPPN and GAN. To allow direct comparison between both direct and indirect representations, we assess the impact of a range of representation-agnostic MAP-Elites feature descriptors that compute metrics directly from the generated terrain meshes. Next, performance and coverage are assessed when training a humanoid robot in a physics simulator using the PPO algorithm. Results describe key differences between the generators that inform their use in curriculum learning, and present a range of useful feature descriptors for uptake by the community.