Robotics is reshaping people’s lives through its entry into our homes and by its performance of medical procedures and therapeutic applications. To allow robotics to gain further access into human lives, designers will have to apply a human-centric approach, recreating robotic designs that are less metal and mechanical and more human-like. Some of the areas that are of great focus include synthetic skins coupled with nimble and dexterous hands and limbs enabling the robot to grasp objects properly—whether lightly or tightly.
As robots become more affordable and accessible, they are showing up in a wide variety of applications, from medicine to farming to scientific exploration and textile assembly lines—some of which is very delicate work. Humanizing robots by providing them with a more natural, human-like form and social presence is a difficult challenge. This humanization requires an intersection of integrative biosciences, material science, mechanics and electronics to make robots behave and seem more like everyday people.
Soft robotics uses gentle, compliant mechanisms and actuators built using fluids and flexible materials, enabling a wide range of motion, making them more suitable for things like exoskeletons or wearables. Many soft robotic forms are more lightweight than their traditional, more rigid counterparts and they have design elements that incorporate muscle-like actuation, soft skin attachments, and electronically releasable spring elements. Engineers are also researching the effects of electroactive polymers, electro-adhesion gripping and electro-laminates in soft robotics—all developments that can ultimately help humans blend comfortably with robots for superhuman strength and ability.
Artificial muscles from robots have the potential to fundamentally shift the way many types of industrial, medical, consumer, automotive and aerospace products are powered and operated. They offer significant advantages over electromagnetic-based technologies due to their lower mass, smaller physical size, lower audible noise and lower costs. Additionally, they offer more control, and their inherent flexibility of configuration enables robots to approach the limits of human dexterity and mobility more closely. Creating robots from polymers—specifically, elastomers with moduli comparable with human skin—automatically eliminates many safety concerns regarding human and robot interactions.
Building machines that can replicate the delicate touch of a human hand is a hugely complex undertaking. Soft robotics engineers have experimented with many different forms from squishy blobs to boa constrictor-inspired claws to electro-adhesion. Scientists have also made progress in developing soft grippers that act like the thumb and index finger on a human hand using layered flaps and pre-stretched elastomers with silicone skin coatings.
Highly expressive hands will allow robots to naturally captivate people’s hearts and minds because future encounters will be more human. Mimicking human gestures such as shaking hands, giving a thumbs-up sign that all is well, interweaving fingers and the like will prove to soften human sentiments toward these soft robot developments.
One company making this trend a reality is Molex. Putting innovation to work for their customers, Molex is a leading provider of electronic components and solutions that are enabling these changes. Molex solves complex customer challenges through the creation of pioneering electronic solutions. Molex’s Temp-Flex Cables offer a solution to assist with these innovations. Temp-Flex products can withstand extreme conditions and harsh environments, and all its standard product lines follow the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) compliance standards. Temp-Flex is a respected industry leader with innovative designs and quality manufacturing processes, delivering the innovative solutions and specialty wire and cable solutions global customers demand. Temp-Flex cables are biocompatible for human use, lending a natural fit to employ in robotic applications that are derivative of human biomechanical performance.
Temp-Flex Micro Miniature Ribbon Cables are medical products with a ribbon format for routability. The micro mini-ribbon cables from Temp-Flex are biocompatible and have exceptional concentricity. These cables include wires 50AWG (0.0254mm) and larger with less than 0.0762mm of pinhole-free insulation. Temp-Flex MediSpec Micro Coaxial Cables are related products for coaxial needs that offer tight tolerance, high dielectric withstanding voltage, and exceptional concentricity. The cables demonstrate robustness with a flexible dielectric. FEP and PFA are alternatives to polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) (common trade name: Teflon), (C2F4)n, and ePTFE tape-wrapped constructions with outer diameters as small as 0.24mm. Temp-Flex offers a wide range of jacketing materials including but not limited to EFTE, PVDF, PVC, TPE, Pebax, and Polyurethane.
Soft robotics research is inspiring the design of new materials and technologies able to sense specific cues, such as pressure, forces from different directions, and vibrations. Soft robotics may provide market opportunities for human-like service robots in the areas of event promotion, leisure and entertainment, research, training and education, healthcare, medical service, retail, and hospitality. This technology suggests that it will improve the experience and relationships between humans and robots. It will do so by designing robots to achieve a level of performance that embraces a more fully realized, human-like, integrative biomechanics.
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