Soft robotics refer to an emerging class of bioinspired robotic systems where purposefully induced compliant elements are embedded within their mechanical structure. This aspect guarantees enhanced capabilities with respect to traditional rigid robots, namely remote access in constrained environments and intrinsic safety in human-robot and environment-robot interaction. In soft robotics, computation, sensors, actuators, materials and body acts all together as an integrated composite system to realize the desired behaviour. Despite being very promising for the enhanced set of applications that they can guarantee, soft robots are difficult to be recycled. This is mainly due to the currently used materials for their production and due to the fact that the body is a composite systems where the embedded elements (materials and electronics) are difficult to be separated. Furthermore, most of current design are based on pneumatic actuation sources, which are notoriously very demanding from the energy point of view. All these aspects have a negative impact on the sustainability.
The goal of the project is to develop a green soft robotic technology with embedded sensing and actuation capabilities which is intrinsically soft, safe and at the same time sustainable. The project will be based on four main pillars: (i) sustainable and recyclable design process for sensors and actuators, minimizing the cost and quantity of the involved raw materials and maximizing their recyclability, also exploiting shape memory alloy materials; (ii) integration of material body and electronics for recyclability; (iii) sustainable pneumatics, minimizing the overall environmental impact through eco-efficient actuation solutions, and energy-efficient planning and control algorithms, minimizing the energy consumption in operation while guaranteeing the desired performances. A software infrastructure of digital twin for the technology will be developed, from which we will be able to estimate in real-time the energy consumption of the robot as well as their expected lifetime through predictive maintenance algorithms.
The ROOTS technology will be tested in laboratory settings, on different prototypes of green robots that can be used for the realization of robotic systems and exoskeletons, that can be used for enabling new measurement applications and/or new manipulation tasks. From a circular economy perspective, green soft robots developed with the technology will be endowed with the following features: sustainable fabrication process; limited energy consumption; extended operational lifetime; recyclability at the end of the robot’s life cycle. The research results to be achieved within the project will contribute in enabling the realization of products with zero impact.
The expected results of the project ROOTS are:
1. Development of new design approaches for reducing the materials usage and enhance the recyclability of soft robots.
2. Development of techniques for separation of body materials and electronics.
3. Development of innovative and green sensors and measurement systems.
4. Enhancing the efficiency and sustainability of pneumatic actuation.
5. Enhancing the operational lifetime of soft robots.
6. Testing and validation of the ROOTS technology in laboratory settings.
The technology will be implemented in multiple proof-of-concepts robots to be used in a key sector of Made in Italy, namely mechanics and automation. This will contribute in allowing what is now referred to as the biological transformation of manufacturing. Furthermore, the technology might be beneficial also in other key sectors of Made in Italy, as fashion, as this technology might be implemented in innovative robotic exoskeletons that can assist human beings in a non-invasive manner, as the human will in the future wear an exoskeleton as now wear a shirt.
The research results to be achieved within the project will contribute in enabling the realization of products with zero impact.