The Advancements in Soft Robotics: 3D Printed Air-Powered Logic Gates

University of Freiburg researchers have presented a design for 3D printed pneumatic logic gates. These modules, capable of executing Boolean operations, serve as a replacement for electronics, providing a sturdy substitute for soft-body robots.

Stefan Conrad, the lead researcher of the team, reveals a design that enables enthusiasts with rudimentary 3D printing abilities to fabricate logic modules that control soft robots. The modules, which can be effortlessly made with regularly available 3D printers using typical filaments, consist of two pressurized chambers divided by a compressible channel, thus establishing a binary valve. These elementary components facilitate the production of AND, OR, and NOT gates, eliminating the requirement for electronics.

Co-lead of the project, Falk Tauber, PhD, drew attention to the versatility of these modules by demonstrating their utilization in a 3D printed robotic walker and an electronics-free beverage dispenser. The robotic walker, governed by an installed pneumatic circuit, showcased the modules’ adaptability by enduring the weight of a car driving over it.

The drinks dispenser, a more complicated apparatus, comprises a pneumatic ring oscillator and one-bit memory. It uses eight pneumatic logic gates. Its design allows for the sequential change of eight separate output signals, emphasizing the adaptability of these modules in forming complicated control mechanisms.

The framework functions by delivering a LOW signal to the latch’s SET input when the button is pressed. This action prompts a peristaltic pump to function through a cyclic signal passing the OR gate. As the water level increases, it initiates a weight sensor. This sensor then leads the latch to getting a LOW signal on its RESET input, ultimately turning off the ring oscillator.

The three-dimensional, printed pneumatic logic gates bring about a significant change in the field of soft robotics. Importantly, they eliminate the requirement of conventional electronics. This project ushers in a new era of potential for both creating robust and multi-functional soft robots and takes a pivotal step towards an electronics-free future of pneumatic control circuits.

The research paper, named “3D-printed digital pneumatic logic for the control of soft robotic actuators” can be read in the Journal of Science Robotics here.

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