A Synergistic Design Leveraging the Diverse Functionalities of Soft- and Rigid-Bodied Robots

Soft robots offer the versatility to accomplish a number of basic functions, including moving in tight spaces, climbing walls, and grasping items. This versatility comes naturally through actuation mechanisms that provide large forces and displacements in highly compliant packages. In their current state of development, the majority of the freedom in soft-bodied robot design is achieved when their support equipment (pneumatic cylinders, air valves, computational hardware) is kept off-board from the soft robot. Unfortunately, fixturing this support equipment can severely limit the achievable range of motion needed for useful, real-world tasks. Rigid-bodied mobile robots, on the other hand, are capable of carrying heavy loads and quick, robust movement in wide-open areas. When it comes to tasks such as manipulation or inspection in cluttered environments, collision avoidance is often necessary and situations may be encountered where it is not possible to execute such motions. Soft robots offer a viable alternative, since they can move in cluttered environments without needing to remain free of collisions. The synergistic integration of soft- and rigid-bodied robots into a hybrid system offers a unique solution to fulfilling tasks in real-world environments: a robot that may operate effectively in open areas, yet also be able to navigate challenging areas of the workspace. Motivated with this aim, our team has integrated a soft-bodied “minion” bot with a KUKA youBot for an autonomous retrieval task. The youBot is able to transport the soft robot and its support equipment in easy-to-navigate areas of an environment. In more challenging areas, a soft robot may be deployed to retrieve objects. With the extesible hardware resources of the youBot, it is possible to coordinate the two robots in order to fulfill the goals that either platform alone would not be able to achieve. This advancement in robotic symbiosis will broaden the horizon for practical applications of soft-bodied robots in completing desired tasks.

The Team

L to R: Prof. Hadas Kress-Gazit, Prof. Robert Shepherd, Lauren Ransohoff, Corinne Lippe, Jonathan DeCastro, Eric Simeonoglou, Victor Dorobantu

Victor Dorobantu, Sophomore Computer Science student at Cornell University, minoring in Mechanical Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering. Role: Pneumatic and electrical system design and algorithm development for soft robot control.

Corinne Lippe, Junior Mechanical Engineering student at Cornell University. Role: Implementation and testing of the youBot manipulator software.

Lauren Ransohoff, Junior Mechanical Engineering student minoring in Computer Science. Role: Camera-based localization, controller implementation, and overall integration.

Eric Simeonoglou, Senior Mechanical Engineering student at Cornell University. Role: Design and fabrication of the physical soft-bodied robot.

Jonathan DeCastro, Ph.D. Student in Mechanical Engineering at Cornell University. Role: Mentoring and technical advising for the development effort; ROS support.

Prof. Hadas Kress-Gazit, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. Role: Faculty co-advisor.

Prof. Robert Shepherd, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. Role: Faculty co-advisor.