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Desktop users: right click on the image and choose "save image as" or "set as desktop background". PITTSBURGH—When Don Hall saw a robot arm made of balloons while visiting Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute several years ago, he knew instantly that Baymax, a pivotal character in the animated feature he was co-directing for Disney, also would be an inflatable robot. At Carnegie Mellon, researchers are proving that these soft robots can do real work while developing technologies, such as artificial muscles, touch sensors and pressure-sensitive skins, that will make them practical.
Among CMU's soft robotics researchers is Yong-Lae Park, an assistant professor in the Robotics Institute and the founder of the Soft Robotics and Bionics Lab.
Carmel Majidi, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, meanwhile heads the Soft Machines Lab, where he is working on soft, stretchable elastic films and flexible electronics that, when integrated into soft robots or clothing, could serve as artificial skin.
The inflatable robotic arm that proved so inspirational to Hall was developed in Atkeson's lab by Siddharth Sanan during his Ph.D. It was a project within the National Science Foundation-sponsored Quality of Life Technology Center, which adapts robotic technology to meet the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities, so they were particularly curious to learn whether an arm of balloons could do work that required a high degree of safety — giving a patient a sponge bath, for instance, or feeding a patient.
Sanan, now a post-doctoral researcher working on soft, wearable robotics at Harvard University, spent years on the project, often studying inflatable pool toys and stand-up dolls for inspiration on how to build components of a functional, inflatable robot using tools such as heat sealers and heat guns.


Sanan used cables to actuate the limbs of his robot, while designing pneumatically controlled hands.
Health care is a natural application for inflatable robots; robots made of soft materials are less likely to cause injury. Fabrics and plastics are inexpensive and cutting them and joining them by melting, gluing and sewing is something accessible to lots of people. 7, is an action-packed, comedy-adventure in which Baymax, a gentle robot designed to care for humans, is transformed into a warrior and joins a band of high-tech heroes. Park is working with Atkeson to develop a lightweight robotic arm that will use balloons as exterior cushions, while employing pneumatic artificial muscles to actuate the arm. In addition to soft actuators and sensors, his lab is developing new methods for rapidly and affordably making these materials using 3D printing and other advanced fabrication technologies. He demonstrated that the inflatable arm could indeed rub a washcloth against his body or maneuver a spoon into his mouth.
But Sanan also emphasizes that inflatable robots could be exceptionally portable - something that could be stowed in a backpack, for instance, or launched into space as a small package.


7Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh To Be Inducted into Institute of MedicineMellon College of Science Professors to Discuss 2014 Nobel Prizes on Oct. As realized by Hall and his team of writers and animators, Baymax is both more huggable and more capable than anything now in Carnegie Mellon's research labs. Yet in the public mind, robots are almost universally metal — whether they are the industrial robots that assemble cars or the robots of popular science fiction, such as Wall-E. Park also is developing new types of soft, artificial skin sensors and soft artificial muscle actuators for controlling robotic devices, as well as strap-on devices that could be used to compensate for limb disorders or to extend human capabilities.
He and Atkeson subsequently worked with firms such as iRobot and OtherLab that are developing soft robots for the marketplace.



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