A research team has developed a groundbreaking “soft valve” technology that integrates sensors and control valves into soft inflatable robots, allowing for enhanced safety and adaptability. The traditional approach to soft robots involves combining soft bodies with rigid electrical components, which can limit their flexibility and practical applications. However, this new technology creates soft analogues of sensors and control valves that operate without electricity, ensuring complete softness and functionality.
The tube-shaped soft valve component has two main functions: detecting environmental inputs and precisely controlling driving motions through air pressure. Unlike traditional robots that rely on hard electronic parts for stimulus detection and drive control, these all-soft valves enable safe operation underwater or in locations where sparks may pose a hazard. Additionally, they reduce weight loads on robotic systems by eliminating the need for electricity-dependent components.
The research team demonstrated various applications for this technology. They developed universal tongs that can delicately pick up fragile items without causing breakage, as well as wearable elbow assist robots that reduce muscle strain caused by repetitive chores or strenuous activities involving arm movements. The elbow support automatically adjusts based on the angle at which an individual’s arm is bent, significantly reducing the force placed on the elbow.
The soft valve technology works by directing airflow through a tube-shaped structure. When stress is applied to one end of the tube, a helically coiled thread within it contracts, controlling air entrance and outflow. This unique accordion-like action enables precise and flexible movements without the need for electricity. The research team also demonstrated the programmability of the soft valve by manipulating different architectures and numbers of threads within the tube, allowing for customized modifications to fit specific situations and requirements.
This groundbreaking development in soft robot technology opens up possibilities for advancements in various wearable systems. By eliminating the need for electronic devices, these soft valves can be easily integrated into material programming, providing flexibility and adaptability in robotics.