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INCREASING THE ENERGY AND POWER DENSITY OF SOFT ROBOTS VIA MULTIFUNCTIONAL FLUIDS

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2024-09-05
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Abstract

Modern robots, particularly the soft variety, lack the combination of endurance (the ability to operate for long durations) and adaptability (the ability to perform a multitude of life-sustaining functions across different environments) that we see in living organisms. One explanation for this phenomenon is that robots are typically composed of individual power, actuation, sensory, and control blocks, each existing as separate materials and optimized for different tasks. Conversely, biological systems are highly interconnected at the material (cellular) level, are hierarchical, and capable of self-assembly, thereby enabling increased complexity and multifunctionality. Many robots also house energy in a single storage unit, often a battery, while more advanced organisms distribute energy throughout their entire bodies. In my first chapter I discuss a new, biologically-inspired design paradigm that addresses these limitations of modern robots. Termed “Embodied Energy”, this philosophy describes the development and inclusion of multifunctional structures that both store energy and provide some additional function, such as actuation or structural support. I explain how this paradigm can be applied to different, existing energy storage and power transduction systems, explore the state of the art, and provide concrete design principles that can be followed to achieve said systems. In my second chapter I introduce a robot that exemplifies the Embodied Energy philosophy. This untethered soft robotic fish contains a “synthetic vascular system” inspired by redox flow batteries. This system combines the functions of mechanical actuation with hydraulic force transfer and electrolyte-based energy storage, increasing the energy density of the robot by over 300%. In my final chapter I discuss how energy-dense chemical fuels can be used to create powerful (Pstroke > 90 W, Fstroke > 9 N, Pspec = 147 W/g), soft microactuators. Though different from Embodied Energy, the design philosophy employed here shares the same goal of increasing the onboard energy content and power density of robotic systems. Here I leverage microscale combustion and localized flame quenching to develop powerful actuators, which I then implement into a quadrupedal, insect-scale robot. This robot is capable of multigait/directional movement and demonstrates a payload capacity 22x bodyweight.

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201 pages

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2023-08

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Advanced manufacturing; Embodied energy; Microrobot; Robot; Soft robots

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Union Local

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Committee Chair

Shepherd, Robert

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McEuen, Paul
Petersen, Kirstin

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Mechanical Engineering

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Ph. D., Mechanical Engineering

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document

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dissertation or thesis

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