Novel 3d Printing Method Embeds Sensing Capabilities Within Robotic Actuators

Using multimaterial, embedded 3D printing and conductive ionic ink, researchers at Harvard University have built soft robots inspired by nature that can crawl, swim, grasp delicate objects and even assist a beating heart.

Using multimaterial, embedded 3D printing and conductive ionic ink, researchers at Harvard University have built soft robots inspired by nature that can crawl, swim, grasp delicate objects and even assist a beating heart. (source: Harvard University)

October 8, 2018 | Source: Harvard Paulson School, seas.harvard.edu, 28 Feb 2018, Leah Burrows

Researchers at Harvard University have built soft robots inspired by nature that can crawl, swim, grasp delicate objects and even assist a beating heart, but none of these devices has been able to sense and respond to the world around them.

That’s about to change.

Inspired by our bodies’ sensory capabilities, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed a platform for creating soft robots with embedded sensors that can sense movement, pressure, touch, and even temperature.

“Our research represents a foundational advance in soft robotics,” said Ryan Truby, first author of the paper and recent Ph.D. graduate at SEAS. “Our manufacturing platform enables complex sensing motifs to be easily integrated into soft robotic systems.”

Integrating sensors within soft robots has been difficult in part because most sensors, such as those used in traditional electronics, are rigid.  To address this challenge, the researchers developed an organic ionic liquid-based conductive ink that can be 3D printed within the soft elastomer matrices that comprise most soft robots.