Scientist Develops Almost-Real Robotic Finger


Reading time ( words)

Most robotic parts used today are rigid, have a limited range of motion and don't really look lifelike. Inspired by both nature and biology, a scientist from Florida Atlantic University has designed a novel robotic finger that looks and feels like the real thing. In an article recently published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, Erik Engeberg, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering within the College of Engineering and Computer Science at FAU, describes how he has developed and tested this robotic finger using shape memory alloy (SMA), a 3D CAD model of a human finger, a 3D printer, and a unique thermal training technique.

"We have been able to thermomechanically train our robotic finger to mimic the motions of a human finger like flexion and extension," said Engeberg. "Because of its light weight, dexterity and strength, our robotic design offers tremendous advantages over traditional mechanisms, and could ultimately be adapted for use as a prosthetic device, such as on a prosthetic hand."

In the study, Engeberg and his team used a resistive heating process called "Joule" heating that involves the passage of electric currents through a conductor that releases heat. Using a 3D CAD model of a human finger, which they downloaded from a website, they were able to create a solid model of the finger. With a 3D printer, they created the inner and outer molds that housed a flexor and extensor actuator and a position sensor. The extensor actuator takes a straight shape when it's heated, whereas the flexor actuator takes a curved shape when heated. They used SMA plates and a multi-stage casting process to assemble the finger. An electrical chassis was designed to allow electric currents to flow through each SMA actuator. Its U-shaped design directed the electric current to flow the SMAs to an electric power source at the base of the finger.

robotic_finger.JPG

This new technology used both a heating and then a cooling process to operate the robotic finger. As the actuator cooled, the material relaxed slightly. Results from the study showed a more rapid flexing and extending motion of the finger as well as its ability to recover its trained shape more accurately and more completely, confirming the biomechanical basis of its trained shape.

"Because SMAs require a heating process and cooling process, there are challenges with this technology such as the lengthy amount of time it takes for them to cool and return to their natural shape, even with forced air convection," said Engeberg. "To overcome this challenge, we explored the idea of using this technology for underwater robotics, because it would naturally provide a rapidly cooling environment."

Since the initial application of this finger will be used for undersea operations, Engeberg used thermal insulators at the fingertip, which were kept open to facilitate water flow inside the finger. As the finger flexed and extended, water flowed through the inner cavity within each insulator to cool the actuators.

"Because our robotic finger consistently recovered its thermomechanically trained shape better than other similar technologies, our underwater experiments clearly demonstrated that the water cooling component greatly increased the operational speed of the finger," said Engeberg.

Undersea applications using Engeberg's new technology could help to address some of the difficulties and challenges humans encounter while working in the ocean depths.

The focus of Engeberg's BioRobotics Laboratory at FAU is investigating robotics and prosthetics, controller design, bioinspiration and biomemetics.

About Florida Atlantic University:

Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU's world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU's existing strengths in research and scholarship.

Share

Print


Suggested Items

My View from CES 2021: Day 1

01/12/2021 | Dan Feinberg, Technology Editor, I-Connect007
What a difference a year makes. One year ago, those of us who cover and attend CES were going from one press conference to the next; this year, we are at home going from link to link. Confusing and challenging, yes, but there are some advantages: no masks, only five steps to get to a restroom, being able to have three of four events or more displaying on your screens at the same time and being able to download press kits as needed. So far, many new devices are being introduced, but of course, they are all online, so you wonder if some of them really exist or are truly operational as yet.

CES 2021: Just How Different Will It Be?

01/11/2021 | Dan Feinberg, I-Connect007
CES 2021 starts today and this year there is no need for an overpriced hotel room in Vegas, no long lines to get a taxi or board a bus, and no crowded exhibit halls (one good thing this year). On the other hand, you must decide ahead of time what you want to see and make a reservation or appointment if you wish to have time and access assured.

CES 2020: The Intelligence of Things

01/06/2020 | Nolan Johnson, I-Connect007
Show week for CES 2020 starts well ahead of the actual exhibition dates because it is huge. The organizers of CES state that there are more than 4,400 exhibiting companies and nearly three million net square feet of exhibit space. On the floor, you can find 307 of the 2018 Fortune Global 500 companies. Over the week, I-Connect007 Editors Dan Feinberg and Nolan Johnson will bring you some of the most interesting news, products, and announcements from 5G to IoT, semiconductor developments, autonomous vehicle technology, interconnect, fabrication materials, and much more.



Copyright © 2021 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.