Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Revolutionary Portable Engine Powers Next-Gen Assistive Devices

North Carolina State University scientists have designed a wearable, subcomponent, fluidic engine that can provide power to muscle-like soft robots without requiring any outside power input. Based on this invention, the mobility of the upper and lower limbs is expected to attain a level that would make the assistive devices indispensable.

‘Soft robots that are powered by fluid engines—such as hydraulic or pneumatic action—can be used to mimic the behavior of muscle in ways that rigid robots cannot,’ Hao Su, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and the corresponding author of the research, said. For this reason, the distinctive characteristic of these robots makes these robots lucrative for use in assistive devices that seek to improve human mobility.

Initial fluid engines cannot support huge airpressures in their cylinders and, therefore, are connected to external compression equipment apart from being restricted in their utility. Previous attempts to design such engines include fluid engines held by wires and rods which did not generated enough force and their usage is limited more. However, the new fluidic engine developed by Su and his team goes straight to these problems and tries to solve them.

‘Our fluidic engine is not tethered to an external source but can still generate up to 580 Newtons of force,’said Su. This massive force generation is obtained by injecting oil into and expelling it from a chamber within the soft robot, to make it contract and expand like a biological muscle. A battery operated high-torque motor is used to drive the pump which allows the engine to apply substantial pressure.

In the proof-of-concept testing the scientists also examined a range of such parameters as the force produced by the new engine and force coefficient that determines the ability of converting the electrical power into fluidic power. According to the study, the researchers noted that the design created an untethered engine of an unprecedented magnitude of force while retaining a low weight, a Di Lallo of NC said. He further said that the utmost operational efficiency of the newly designed fluidic engine is greater than the earlier portable unattached engines.

The details of the findings are highlighted in the paper highlighted with the title: Untethered Fluidic Engine for High-Force Soft Wearable Robots Journal: Advanced Intelligent Systems. This study has been conducted by Shuangyue Yu, who was a postdoctoral researcher at NC state; Jie Yin, an assistant professor of the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC state; Jonathon Slightam of Sandia National Laboratories; and Gu of University of California at Berkeley.

This pioneering work was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research and Amazon Robotics. The creation of this form of closed-form fluidic engine that is portable is therefore a novel advancement in the sphere of assistive technology that provides new ways of augmenting human mobility as well as giving people greater autonomy.

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