Soft Growing Robot Research

Vine Robot

Soft Robotics is the specific subfield of robotics involved with constructing robots from soft and compliant materials, similar to those found in living organisms. In IRIS lab, we have been actively researching eversion-based soft robots, inspired from the way plants and vines grow at the tip to achieve movement. Unlike traditional robots, which move through surface contact to walk or run. Our vine robot relies on apical growth for its movement. The robot has a grounded base, and can continually grow as it expands to add material at its tip. The robot is driven by air or water pressure and new material is continuously fed through the body of the robot, which allows the tip to travel orders of magnitude further than other continuum robots. The soft growing robots also have many advantages over fixed length continuum robots. Currently we are working on improving the teleoperation performance of the robot as well as improving the overall design of the robot to allow for better performance and higher payloads with multiple sensors.

    Control Interface for Continuum Robot

    Eversion based soft growing robots like Vine Robot (link to the main page) have tremendous structural advantageous application in space-constrained and unstructured environments like rubble after natural disasters or ancient ruins. However, for a robot to operate in such environments remotely, a human-in-the-loop teleoperation scheme is essential. Commercially available input interfaces, for instance, a Phantom Omni or joysticks, have been used to teleoperate continuum robots without considering unique kinematic structure and apical extension based locomotion. However, due to the kinematic dissimilarity between these input interfaces and a soft growing robot (in shape, pose or degrees of freedom), the user’s situational awareness is negatively affected. When this happens, the human operator loses the sense of the robot orientation relative to its base or surroundings.
    At IRIS lab, we designed a new flexible input interface with a fixed length that maps bending commands from the human operator into movements and provides an implicit shape sensing capability for the distal portion of the soft growing robot. We are working on incorporating haptic feedback in the flexible interface to allow for even higher situational awareness to the operator.