Research ArticleENGINEERING

Leveraging elastic instabilities for amplified performance: Spine-inspired high-speed and high-force soft robots

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Science Advances  08 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 19, eaaz6912
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz6912


Soft machines typically exhibit slow locomotion speed and low manipulation strength because of intrinsic limitations of soft materials. Here, we present a generic design principle that harnesses mechanical instability for a variety of spine-inspired fast and strong soft machines. Unlike most current soft robots that are designed as inherently and unimodally stable, our design leverages tunable snap-through bistability to fully explore the ability of soft robots to rapidly store and release energy within tens of milliseconds. We demonstrate this generic design principle with three high-performance soft machines: High-speed cheetah-like galloping crawlers with locomotion speeds of 2.68 body length/s, high-speed underwater swimmers (0.78 body length/s), and tunable low-to-high-force soft grippers with over 1 to 103 stiffness modulation (maximum load capacity is 11.4 kg). Our study establishes a new generic design paradigm of next-generation high-performance soft robots that are applicable for multifunctionality, different actuation methods, and materials at multiscales.

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