Development of Soft Actuation Systems for Use in Human-Centered Applications
In recent years, soft materials have seen increased prevalence in the design of robotic systems and wearables capable of addressing the needs of individuals living with disabilities. In particular, pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs) have readily been employed in place of electromagnetic actuators due to their ability to produce large forces and motions, while still remaining lightweight, compact, and flexible. Due to the inherent nonlinearity of PAMs however, additional external or embedded sensors must be utilized in order to effectively control the overall system. In the case of external sensors, the bulkiness of the overall system is increased, which places limits on the system’s design. Meanwhile, the traditional cylindrical form factor of PAMs limits their ability to remain compact and results in overly complex fabrication processes when embedded fibers and/or sensing elements are required to provide efficient actuation and control. In order to overcome these limitations, this thesis proposed the design of flat pneumatic artificial muscles (FPAMs) capable of being fabricated using a simple layered manufacturing process, in which water-soluble masks were utilized to create collapsed air chambers. Furthermore, hyperelastic deformation models were developed to approximate the mechanical performance of the FPAMs and were verified through experimental characterization. The feasibility of these design techniques to meet the requirements of human centered applications, including the suppression of hand tremors and catheter ablation procedures, was explored and the potential for these soft actuation systems to act as solutions in other real world applications was demonstrated. We expect the design, fabrication, and modeling techniques developed in this thesis to aid in the development of future wearable devices and motivate new methods for researchers to employ soft pneumatic systems as solutions in human-centered applications.