At Case Western Reserve University, Nord Distinguished Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Kiju Lee has created a soft robot that may one day be used in surgery, assembly lines, or even space.
Together with her PhD students, Professor Lee has recently moved from paper robots to 3D printed models that can bend, twist, contract, and extend. This mechanism has been aptly named TWISTER (TWISted TowEr Robot). TWISTER is made from multiple layers of regular polygons that form a tube-shaped tower.
TWISTER was inspired by original origami designed by Japanese artist Mihoko Tachibana. Dr. Lee used cable-based actuation to control the robot. However, different approaches such as using shape-memory alloys are currently being explored.
Hard-bodied robots are generally separated from people in manufacturing processes due to safety concerns. But the soft robot is made with soft materials and is potentially safe to use on an assembly line right next to people.
Lee and physicians have also been discussing ways to miniaturize the robot for minimally invasive surgeries or for space exploration.