Soft Pneumatic Actuator Fascicles for High Force and Reliability
Soft pneumatic actuators (SPAs) are found in mobile robots, assistive wearable devices, and rehabilitative technologies. While soft actuators have been one of the most crucial elements of technology leading the development of the soft robotics field, they fall short of force output and bandwidth requirements for many tasks. Additionally, other general problems remain open including robustness, controllability, and repeatability. The SPA-pack architecture presented here aims to satisfy these standards of reliability crucial to the field of soft robotics, while also improving the basic performance capabilities of SPAs by borrowing advantages leveraged ubiquitously in biology; namely the structured parallel arrangement of lower power actuators to form the basis of a larger, more powerful actuator module. An SPA-pack module consisting of a number of smaller SPAs will be studied using an analytical model and physical prototype. Experimental measurements show an SPA-pack to generate over 112 N linear force, while the model indicates the benefit of parallel actuator grouping over a geometrically equivalent single SPA scales as an increasing function of the number of individual actuators in the group. For a module of four actuators, a 23 % increase in force production over a volumetrically equivalent single SPA is predicted and validated, while further gains appear possible up to 50 %. These findings affirm the advantage of utilizing a fascicle structure for high-performance soft robotic applications over existing monolithic SPA designs. An example high-performance soft robotic platform will be presented to demonstrate the capability of SPA-pack modules in a complete and functional system.