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Soft Robot. 2018 Apr;5(2):175-189. doi: 10.1089/soro.2017.0012. Epub 2017 Dec 6.

Proprioceptive Flexible Fluidic Actuators Using Conductive Working Fluids.

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1 Department of Engineering Mathematics, University of Bristol , Bristol, United Kingdom .
2 Bristol Robotics Laboratory , Bristol, United Kingdom .


Soft robotic systems generally require both soft actuators and soft sensors to perform complex functions. Separate actuators and sensors are often combined into one composite device when proprioception (self-sensing) is required. In this article, we introduce the concept of using a conductive liquid to perform both the sensing and actuation functions of a proprioceptive soft actuator. The working fluid drives actuator deformation while simultaneously acting as a strain-sensing component for detecting actuator deformation. The concept is examined and demonstrated in two proprioceptive flexible fluidic actuators (FFAs) that use conductive liquids as their working fluids: a linear actuator and a bending actuator. In both cases, we show that resistance can be used to infer strain. Some hysteresis and nonlinearity are present, but repeatability is high. The bandwidth of resistance as a sensing variable in the bending FFA is tested and found to be ∼3.665 Hz. Resistance is demonstrated as a feedback variable in a control loop, and the proprioceptive bending FFA is controlled to respond to step input and sinusoidal target functions. The effect of temperature on resistance-strain behavior is also examined, and we demonstrate how measurement of volume and resistance can be used to detect when the actuator is constrained. Biocompatible proprioceptive soft actuators such as those presented in this article are ideal for use in low-cost bionic healthcare components such as orthotics, prosthetics, or even replacement muscles.


actuator; flexible; fluidic; proprioception; sensor; soft

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