Journal article Open Access

The Quest for Natural Machine Motion: An Open Platform to Fast-Prototyping Articulated Soft Robots

Della Santina Cosimo; Piazza Cristina; Gasparri Gian Maria; Bonilla Manuel; Catalano Manuel Giuseppe; Grioli Giorgio; Garabini Manolo; Bicchi Antonio

Soft robots are one of the most significant recent evolutions in robotics. They rely on compliant physical structures purposefully designed to embody desired characteristics. Since their introduction, they have shown remarkable applicability in overcoming their rigid counterparts in such areas as interaction with humans, adaptability, energy efficiency, and maximization of peak performance. Nonetheless, we believe that research on novel soft robot applications is still slowed by the difficulty in obtaining or developing a working soft robot structure to explore novel applications. In this article, we present the Natural Machine Motion Initiative (NMMI), a modular open platform that aims to provide the scientific community with tools for fast and easy prototyping of articulated soft robots. Such a platform is composed of three main open hardware modules: the Qbmoves variable-stiffness actuators (VSAs) to build the main robotic structure, soft end effectors (EEs) to interact with the world, and a pool of application-specific add-ons. We also discuss many novel uses of the platform to rapidly prototype (RP) and test new robotic structures with original soft capabilities, and we propose NMMI-based experiments.

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