Leveraging pleat folds and soft compliant elements in inflatable fabric beams

Front Robot AI. 2024 Jan 12:10:1267642. doi: 10.3389/frobt.2023.1267642. eCollection 2023.


Inflatable fabric beams (IFBs) integrating pleat folds can generate complex motion by modifying the pleat characteristics (e.g., dimensions, orientations). However, the capability of the IFB to return to the folded configuration relies upon the elasticity of the fabrics, requiring additional pressure inputs or complementary mechanisms. Using soft compliant elements (SCEs) assembled onto pleat folds is an appealing approach to improving the IFB elasticity and providing a range of spatial configurations when pressurized. This study introduces an actuator comprising an IFB with pleat folds and SCEs. By methodologically assembling the SCEs onto the pleat folds, we constrain the IFB unfolding to achieve out-of-plane motion at 5 kPa. Besides, the proposed actuator can generate angular displacement by regulating the input pressure (> 5 kPa). A matrix-based representation and model are proposed to analyze the actuator motion. We experimentally study the actuator's angular displacement by modifying SCE shapes, fold dimensions, and assembly distances of SCEs. Moreover, we analyze the effects of incorporating two SCEs onto a pleat fold. Our results show that the actuator motion can be tuned by integrating SCEs with different stiffness and varying the pleat fold dimensions. In addition, we demonstrate that the integration of two SCEs onto the pleat fold permits the actuator to return to its folded configuration when depressurized. In order to demonstrate the versatility of the proposed actuator, we devise and conduct experiments showcasing the implementation of a planar serial manipulator and a soft gripper with two grasping modalities.

Keywords: fabric actuators; inflatable fabric beam; pleat folds; soft compliant elements; soft robotics.

Grants and funding

The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This work is supported by FONDECYT Peru under contract No. 105-2021-FONDECYT Proyectos de Investigación Aplicada y Desarrollo Tecnológico.