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Fluidic Fabric Muscle Sheets for Wearable and Soft Robotics


Conformable robotic systems are attractive for applications in which they may actuate structures with large surface areas, provide forces through wearable garments, or enable autonomous robotic systems. We present a new family of soft actuators that we refer to as Fluidic Fabric Muscle Sheets (FFMS). They are composite fabric structures that integrate fluidic transmissions based on arrays of elastic tubes. These sheet-like actuators can strain, squeeze, bend, and conform to hard or soft objects of arbitrary shapes or sizes, including the human body. We show how to design and fabricate FFMS actuators via facile apparel engineering methods, including computerized sewing techniques that determine the stress and strain distributions that can be generated. We present a simple mathematical model that proves effective for predicting their performance. FFMS can operate at frequencies of 5 Hz or more, achieve engineering strains exceeding 100%, and exert forces >115 times their weight. They can be safely used in intimate contact with the human body even when delivering stresses exceeding 106 Pascals. We demonstrate their versatility for actuating a variety of bodies or structures, and in configurations that perform multiaxis actuation, including bending and shape change. As we also show, FFMS can be used to exert forces on body tissues for wearable and biomedical applications. We demonstrate several potential use cases, including a miniature steerable robot, a glove for grasp assistance, garments for applying compression to the extremities, and devices for actuating small body regions or tissues via localized skin stretch.

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