High-speed and Low-energy Actuation for Pneumatic Soft Robots With Internal Exhaust Air Recirculation
Multi-chamber soft pneumatic actuators (m-SPAs) have been widely used in soft robotic systems to achieve versatile grasping and locomotion. However, existing m-SPAs have slow actuation speed and are either limited by a finite air supply or require energy-consuming hardware to continuously supply compressed air. Here, we address these shortcomings by introducing an internal exhaust air recirculation (IEAR) mechanism for high-speed and low-energy actuation of m-SPAs. This mechanism recirculates the exhaust compressed air and recovers the energy by harnessing the rhythmic actuation of multiple chambers. We develop a theoretical model to guide the analysis of the IEAR mechanism, which agrees well with the experimental results. Comparative experimental results of several sets of m-SPAs show that our IEAR mechanism significantly improves the actuation speed by more than 82.4% and reduces the energy consumption per cycle by more than 47.7% under typical conditions. We further demonstrate the promising applications of the IEAR mechanism in various pneumatic soft machines and robots such as a robotic fin, fabric-based finger, and quadruped robot.