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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/P025846/1
Title: Integrated compliant actuation for untethered soft robotic systems
Principal Investigator: Conn, Dr A
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
LEAP Technology
Department: Mechanical Engineering
Organisation: University of Bristol
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 01 September 2017 Ends: 31 August 2018 Value (£): 97,118
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
09 Feb 2017 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 9 and 10 February 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form


The use of soft, flexible technologies in robotic systems is a fundamental shift from the traditional basis of how a robot should be designed. Compliant, deformable materials allow many biological principles to be emulated and this emerging soft approach can create robots that robustly deal with uncertainty, interact more safely with humans and compliantly move through unstructured environments. However, the lack of soft, embedded actuators that reliably replicate the functionality of muscles in the animal body has become a technological bottleneck. This has limited how effectively soft robots can be applied outside of laboratory conditions in applications that require either autonomy from tethering to hard supply systems.

This project aims to develop innovative hybrid actuation systems which will expand the application of soft robotics towards autonomous and untethered systems. Like biological muscle, these actuators will be fully integrated into soft robotic devices without sacrificing their performance. The proposed developments of improved soft actuation performance are driven by two underlying objectives. The first of these relates to how the power to weight ratio (W/kg) of soft actuators can be sufficiently increased so that they are comparable to rigid actuators. The second overarching objective is driven by the need to untether soft robots from hard supply systems such as valves, pumps and electric motors. The motivations for these objectives are to give soft robotic systems autonomy, mobility and, ultimately, inherent compliance of all sub-systems.

In this project advances will be made with two classes of soft robotic technology, fluidic actuators and thermo-active actuators, which will each be integrated with additional technologies such as electro-active polymers and evaporator-condenser networks. These new hybrid actuators will form hierarchical structures that do not need any rigid components and can be fully deformed. By addressing the need for soft robotic technologies that can be untethered and mobile the project will, if successful, have significant impact in the development of autonomous soft robots and wearable soft robotic healthcare technologies.
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Organisation Website: http://www.bris.ac.uk