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This proposal addresses the hardware, control and planning technologies required to achieve soft robotic systems, in order to offer inherent safety and adaptation to the human-machine systems of the future. The project is motivated by a broad range of aspects of human-robot interaction, including soft augmentation tools for safe compliant manipulation, soft exoskeletons for rehabilitation of neuromuscular disorders, or active clamping systems that can conform to arbitrary surfaces. The proposed research will address the algorithmic and device-level challenges that arise in the design of soft compliant robots capable of pose-invariant and shape-invariant grasping. A combination of algorithmic solutions to modeling, control, planning, and adaptation will lead to new soft compliant manipulators that do not need accurate geometric models for grasping. By designing soft compliant fingers and hands, new approaches to grasp planning and manipulation will be enabled. A novel composable actuation system and supporting planning and control algorithms with features inspired by natural muscle will be developed.
Broader Impacts: Soft robots are inherently low-cost. Affordable soft manipulators will enable in-home assistants for the elderly or incapacitated, but these robots must be able to manipulate the natural world as easily as people do. The next generation robot manipulators will also support new levels of factory automation, in which robots will work synergistically with humans with the ultimate goal of reducing the cost of manufacturing in the USA. The proposed soft devices will provide a new approach to assistive and rehabilitative usage of compliant robotic platforms. Their functional compliant properties will enable them to work side-by-side with human beings or as part of their bodies, to augment and improve human productivity and performance. This new wearable soft robotic technology will not only help workers perform tasks, but also improve the quality of life for many people. In addition, the PIs have a long tradition of integrating research and education by providing research training at all levels, from high-school teachers and students to undergraduate and graduate students, and postdocs. A range of activities to reach out to undergraduate students, high-school communities, women and minorities is planned.