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TECH FRONT


The company will be using technology from its own


SEM (soft extra muscle) Glove to develop a new grasp as- sist for the RoboGlove and address other issues, such as different hand fit sizes, before it hits the market. Bioservo will also optimize the glove for other medical rehabilitation uses where extra grip strength is needed. GM still intends to be the first US manufacturer to use the RoboGlove in its plants once it’s ready for production.


Heat-responsive, 3D printed structures ‘remember’ shapes


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IT and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) researchers developed 3D printed structures that spring back to their original shapes


after being twisted, stretched and bent at different angles. The researchers used shape-memory polymers and a pioneering 3D printing process called microstereolithogra- phy to create the structures, which revert back into shape after being heated to a certain temperature. The applications for this kind of technology are numer- ous: Soft actuators that turn solar panels toward the sun, deployable aerospace structures, soft robotics, wearable sensors. But biomedical applications stand out to Nicholas X. Fang, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “We ultimately want to use body temperature as a trig-


ger,” Fang said. “If we can design these polymers properly, we may be able to form a drug-delivery device that will only release medicine at the sign of a fever.” One of the issues that arises when 3D printing shape-memory polymers is size restriction. Other researchers couldn’t de- sign details smaller than a few millimeters on these materials. The size of the structure affects the time of the reaction, too: The smaller the features, the faster the structure will spring into shape. Microstereolithography uses light from a


project to print patterns on successive layers of material. First, a CAD model is created, then sliced into hundreds of pieces to form a bitmap. The shape of bitmap is then project- ed and etched onto the material using light. This method of printing, along with an ideal mix of polymers, allowed the team to create features on the structures that


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were at least one-tenth the size as those created on other printed shape-memory materials. It made the process much faster, too. When this particular polymer mix reached between 40–180° Celsius, it snapped back into shape. “Because we’re using our own printers that offer much smaller pixel size,” Fang said, “we’re seeing much faster response, on the order of seconds. If we can push to even smaller dimensions, we may also be able to push their response time, to milliseconds.”


Squishy, autonomous ‘octobot’ born at Harvard


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esearchers at Harvard demonstrated the first auton- omous and entirely soft robot, dubbed the octobot. The bot was created using soft lithography, molding


and 3D printing. Soft robotics could change the way humans and robots


work together, but the challenge in creating an entirely soft robot has been the power and control systems. Think rigid batteries and circuit boards. Soft robots without those components on the inside still had to be tethered to some kind of off-board system. The octobot is the first to circumvent these issues.


It’s powered by a chemical reaction inside the robot that transforms a small amount of liquid hydrogen peroxide into gas, which inflates the octobot’s arms like a balloon. Michael Wehner, a co-first author of the paper, said, “The


wonderful thing about hydrogen peroxide is that a simple reaction between the chemical and a catalyst—in this case


Photo courtesy Lori Sanders/ Harvard University


The octobot is controlled via the embedded microfluidic soft con- troller and powered by a chemical reaction of hydrogen peroxide.


Fall 2016


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