An Active Connection Mechanism for Soft Modular Robots
To date, most modular robotic systems lack flexibility when increasing the number of modules due to their hard building blocks and rigid connection mechanisms. In order to improve adaptation to environmental changes, softness on the module level might be beneficial. However, coping with softness requires fundamental rethinking the way modules are built. A major challenge is to develop a connection mechanism that does not limit the softness of the modules, does not require precise alignment and allows for easy detachment. In this paper, we propose a soft active connection mechanism based on electroadhesion. The mechanism uses electrostatic forces to connect modules. The method is easy to implement and can be integrated in a wide range of soft module types. Based on our experimental results, we conclude that the mechanism is suitable as a connection principle for light-weight modules when efficiency in a wide range of softness, tolerance to alignment and easy detachment are desired. The main contributions of this article are (i) the qualitative comparison of different connector principles for soft modular robots, (ii) the integration of electroadhesion, featuring a novel electrode pattern design, into soft modules, and (iii) the demonstration and characterization of the performance of functional soft module mockups including the connection mechanism.