This 3D Printed Quadrupedal Soft Robot Could Make Prosthetics Comfier

Although it bears almost no resemblance to what we conventionally think of as a robot, this little guy is the latest development in the growing field of soft robotics.

Dubbed the Glaucus, the robot is inspired by the blue sea slug Glaucus Atlanticus, and is able to walk without any hard moving parts. Instead it contains two hollow interior chambers that “interdigitate” – or interlock like the fingers of clasped hands – with each other.

Two input lines pressurise the chambers individually, which bends the robot’s structure. This in turn produces a walking motion not unlike how a salamander moves.

glaucus-mould

The Glaucus is designed as a proof-of-concept. Super-Releaser, the company behind the robot, says it is the first demonstration of a method to produce almost any geometry modelled on a computer in this silicone skin.

The robot is made in such a way that producing large numbers would be very simple. It is produced from a 3D printed mould, meaning once the initial mould was created more of the Glaucus could quickly be created.

Super-Releaser believes that the technology behind this robot could have distinct benefits for the medical industry. It has proposed the development of a mouldable orthotic cuff that could be used for stroke rehabilitation or physical therapy.

“When inflated it could provide extra force for reaching and lifting,” the company explained in a video.

It also has tremendous potential in prosthetics, where comfortable fit is vital. The company has suggested that it could use a patient’s scan data to determine how force will be distributed on a leg prosthesis, and create a silicon sleeve that would contain “padding and cushioning for pain points as dictated by that data”.

The exterior of the sleeve could also be given a special surface to enable it to “mechanically lock-in with a prosthetic, providing a solid mechanical bond”.

Super-Releaser, a company based in Brooklyn, New York, in the US, is a collaboration between Matthew Borgatti, a designer and engineer with a background in animatronic puppet development for the SFX industry, and Dr James Bredt, a 3D printing veteran and lecturer at MIT.

Together they have been developing this soft robot technology with a view to creating solutions for the medical device industry.

Unlike some companies, they have also chosen to make the technology open-source: 3D printer files and documentation are freely available online, and Super-Releaser has released a forum for would-be makers to ask questions and share tips.


Images courtesy of Super-Releaser.


Augmented ‘Olympics’: Championship for Robot-Assisted Parathletes Coming in 2016

A championship sports event for parathletes using high-tech prostheses, exoskeletons and other robotic and assistive devices will be held in two years time.

The championship, named Cybathlon, will be the first Olympic-esque event for augmented humans, where unlike in the Olympics and Paralympics, the use of performance-enhancing devices will be actively encouraged.

The competitors, known as racing pilots or parathletes, will wear the most modern robotics and technologies to counteract their disabilities and enable them to perform in a way that, in some cases, is beyond the abilities of a typical human.

Because of the focus on robotic devices, there will be winning medals not only for the parathletes but also for the manufacturers of the devices.

cybathlon-leg

Cybathlon, which will be held in Zurich, Switzerland, on 8 October 2016, addresses a growing question for athletic events such as the Olympics and Paralympics where athletes wear prosthetics.

As prosthetic technology has improved it has become evident that prosthetics could soon give their wearers an advantage over able-bodied athletes, leading to some comparisons between advanced prosthetics and performance-enhancing drugs.

Because of this, the Olympic rules place very tight restrictions on prosthetics, which nearly resulted in Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius from being banned from the main games for having an unfair advantage.

However, there has been a growing call for an athletic event that encourages the advancement of prosthetics and augmentations, which Cybathlon is now fulfilling.

cybathlon-exo

The event, which is being organised by NCCR Robotics, should help to promote the development of more advanced robotic assistance systems for people with disabilities, as well as increasing public awareness about these technologies and what is currently possible.

Most importantly, the event will provide a unique opportunity for people with disabilities using such systems to compete, as no other event of this type exists anywhere in the world.

Cybathlon 2016 will offer six disciplines for pilots to compete in, all of which have strict entry rules which are viewable on the championship’s website.

The powered leg prosthetics race will involve an obstacle course featuring slopes, steps, uneven surfaces and straight sprints. Athletes will be able to compete in prosthesis that has its own power source, potentially resulting in devices more advanced that those worn by Paralympians.

There will also be a powered wheelchair race on a similar obstacle course, which again will feature a variety of surfaces and environments. The powered arm prosthetics competition will also allow the use of devices with their own power source, but will involve competing in tasks that measure dexterity.

For athletes with spinal cord injuries, the powered exoskeleton race will be undertaken over an obstacle course. This should be particularly interesting to follow as exoskeletons do not typically feature in athletic events, and the level of advancement in this field is not widely known to the general public.

There will also be a functional electrical stimulation bike race for competitors with spinal cord injuries. This will involve the athletes cycling with the aid of electrical stimulation despite being paralysed, typically from the waist down.

Equally remarkable will be the brain-computer interface race, which is a competition for pilots with complete paralysis below the neck. In this event, the pilots will compete in a computer-based horse or car race, with their own avatar controlled completely by their own thought.

The event will serve as a demonstration of the remarkable technologies that are being developed for people with disabilities, but also will serve as a true athletic event where the pilot’s commitment, training and attitude is essential to success. For this reason it eventually could produce parathlete megastars, as public interest in this event is likely to be significant.

If the event were to occur on a regular basis, it could also serve a demonstration of the growth of this field. Every Olympics we expect records to be broken, but in the Cybathlon this would almost be a certainty.


Images courtesy of Cybathlon.