Translucent soft robots driven by frameless fluid electrode dielectric elastomer actuators

Dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) are a promising enabling technology for a wide range of emerging applications, including robotics, artificial muscles, and microfluidics. This is due to their large actuation strains, rapid response rate, low cost and low noise, high energy density, and high efficiency when compared with alternative actuators. These properties make DEAs ideal for the actuation of soft submersible devices, although their use has been limited because of three main challenges: (i) developing suitable, compliant electrode materials; (ii) the need to effectively insulate the actuator electrodes from the surrounding fluid; and (iii) the rigid frames typically required to prestrain the dielectric layers. We explored the use of a frameless, submersible DEA design that uses an internal chamber filled with liquid as one of the electrodes and the surrounding environmental liquid as the second electrode, thus simplifying the implementation of soft, actuated submersible devices. We demonstrated the feasibility of this approach with a prototype swimming robot composed of transparent bimorph actuator segments and inspired by transparent eel larvae, leptocephali. This design achieved undulatory swimming with a maximum forward swimming speed of 1.9 millimeters per second and a Froude efficiency of 52%. We also demonstrated the capability for camouflage and display through the body of the robot, which has an average transmittance of 94% across the visible spectrum, similar to a leptocephalus. These results suggest a potential for DEAs with fluid electrodes to serve as artificial muscles for quiet, translucent, swimming soft robots for applications including surveillance and the unobtrusive study of marine life.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content

Controlling sensation intensity for electrotactile stimulation in human-machine interfaces

A barrier to practical use of electrotactile stimulation for haptic feedback has been large variability in perceived sensation intensity because of changes in the impedance of the electrode-skin interface, such as when electrodes peel or users sweat. We show how to significantly reduce this variability by modulating stimulation parameters in response to measurements of impedance. Our method derives from three contributions. First, we created a model between stimulation parameters and impedance at constant perceived sensation intensity by looking at the peak pulse energy and phase charge. Our model fits experimental data better than previous models [mean correlation coefficient (r2) > 0.9] and holds over a larger set of conditions (participants, sessions, magnitudes of sensation, stimulation locations, and electrode sizes). Second, we implemented a controller that regulates perceived sensation intensity by using our model to derive a new current amplitude and pulse duration in response to changes in impedance. Our controller accurately predicts participant-chosen stimulation parameters at constant sensation intensity (mean r2 > 0.9). Third, we demonstrated as a proof of concept on two participants with below-elbow amputations—using a prosthesis with electrotactile touch feedback—that our controller can regulate sensation intensity in response to large impedance changes that occur in activities of daily living. These results make electrotactile stimulation for human-machine interfaces more reliable during activities of daily living.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content

Soft erythrocyte-based bacterial microswimmers for cargo delivery

Bacteria-propelled biohybrid microswimmers have recently shown to be able to actively transport and deliver cargos encapsulated into their synthetic constructs to specific regions locally. However, usage of synthetic materials as cargo carriers can result in inferior performance in load-carrying efficiency, biocompatibility, and biodegradability, impeding clinical translation of biohybrid microswimmers. Here, we report construction and external guidance of bacteria-driven microswimmers using red blood cells (RBCs; erythrocytes) as autologous cargo carriers for active and guided drug delivery. Multifunctional biohybrid microswimmers were fabricated by attachment of RBCs [loaded with anticancer doxorubicin drug molecules and superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs)] to bioengineered motile bacteria, Escherichia coli MG1655, via biotin-avidin-biotin binding complex. Autonomous and on-board propulsion of biohybrid microswimmers was provided by bacteria, and their external magnetic guidance was enabled by SPIONs loaded into the RBCs. Furthermore, bacteria-driven RBC microswimmers displayed preserved deformability and attachment stability even after squeezing in microchannels smaller than their sizes, as in the case of bare RBCs. In addition, an on-demand light-activated hyperthermia termination switch was engineered for RBC microswimmers to control bacteria population after operations. RBCs, as biological and autologous cargo carriers in the biohybrid microswimmers, offer notable advantages in stability, deformability, biocompatibility, and biodegradability over synthetic cargo-carrier materials. The biohybrid microswimmer design presented here transforms RBCs from passive cargo carriers into active and guidable cargo carriers toward targeted drug and other cargo delivery applications in medicine.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content

Geometric constraints and optimization in externally driven propulsion

Micro/nanomachines capable of propulsion through fluidic environments provide diverse opportunities in important biomedical applications. In this paper, we present a theoretical study on micromotors steered through liquid by an external rotating magnetic field. A purely geometric tight upper bound on the propulsion speed normalized with field frequency, known as propulsion efficiency, , for an arbitrarily shaped object is derived. Using this bound, we estimate the maximum propulsion efficiency of previously reported random magnetic aggregates. We introduce a complementary definition of the propulsion efficiency, *, that ranks propellers according to their maximal speed in body lengths per unit time and that appears to be preferable over the standard definition in a search for fastest machines. Using a bead-based hydrodynamic model combined with genetic algorithms, we determine that *-optimal propeller deviates strongly from the bioinspired slim helix and has a surprising chubby skew-symmetric shape. It is also shown that optimized propellers with preprogrammed shape are substantially more efficient than random magnetic aggregates. We anticipate that the results of the present study will provide guidance toward prospective experimental design of more efficient magnetic micro/nanomachines.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content