MIT Tests Soft Robots in Zero Gravity
Tom Spendlove posted on March 10, 2018 | | 2618 views

Carson Smuts and Chrisoula Kapelonis from the MIT Media Lab's City Science group recently published data from their soft robotics testing in space conditions. Their project, titled Spatial Flux: A seamless pneumatic surface that morphs to embrace the human body in zero gravity, looks at soft robots that are vulnerable on the ground but can easily move around and avoid failure in zero gravity.

The project hopes to look at the way humans can interact with the robots while at work, rest and play. Zero gravity interaction means that we don't need to think in terms of x-y planes and using z as the vertical axis. If we don't think about the need for a traditional floor, ceiling, desk and bed in an environment then one amorphous structure might be able to meet several requirements at once. The fascinating parts of this project for me are the construction and control of the soft robot and the sensors involved in obtaining the data.

Spatial Flux used TerMITes sensors to obtain data during the test (MIT Environmental Sensing). The sensors were developed as a cost effective solution for researchers and designers, connecting to Wifi and powered by USB. Temperature, motion, light, humidity, pressure, proximity, and gas presence can all be sensed by TerMITes depending on the application. This is the third iteration of MITes sensors and areas of focus are the user interface, the user experience, and the commitment to open source software. I haven't had luck with the visualization application yet but the raw data is also available for download.

Construction of the robot is also outlined in the project, and videos show quarter scale prototypes of the 'arm' pieces of the soft robot and also a video showing the silicone pour for the main spine piece. The entire Spatial Flux group is exciting to read about as they rethink the way we interact with the space around us, and continue to push the boundaries of soft robotics. One of my new engineering goals is to work on a project so innovative that the most mundane detail is that the testing is done in a zero gravity facility.

(Images courtesy MIT)

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