Arnav Wagh, a multi-disciplinary designer with a broad interest in product development, is aiming to make soft robotics more accessible through his latest project, FLXO. The project consists of 3D printed origami-like structures which are used as modular soft actuators and can be integrated with robotic kits already on the market. In short, FLXO makes it easier to produce soft actuator designs, which, in turn, helps those interested in the field to make new discoveries.
The field of soft robotics—so-named because it uses squishy materials rather than conventional robotic materials like hard plastics and metals—is quickly advancing and is opening up exciting new opportunities in a number of fields. Notably, because soft robotic devices use pneumatically or hydraulically actuated structures made some soft materials, they are well suited for use with and near humans, and can thus fulfill collaborative functions that other, “harder” robots would be dangerous for.
Though there have been developments in the young area of soft robotics, Wagh believes that there is an important bottleneck that is preventing open exploration of the technology. Specifically, he highlights that there is not enough accessible literature and documentation on soft robotic technologies, with most of the research being done at well-funded research labs.
He writes on his website: “At present anyone who wants to tinker with soft robotics needs to go through the tedious process of design, fabrication and material sourcing. This creates a bottleneck in open exploration of this technology.”
The FLXO project is therefore an effort to address this bottleneck and make soft robotic research more accessible. In his work, Wagh designed prefabricated soft actuators which are produced entirely using a desktop 3D printer. The modular interlocking pneumatic muscles can also be integrated with existing robotic kits, such as the VeX robotics kit. Users can simply snap VeX robotics pieces into the soft actuators, enabling them to prototype and test hybrid soft and rigid robotics.
Wagh has created four different soft actuators, which form the basic building blocks for an engine function: a linear actuator, a bending actuator, a 90 degree twist and linear actuator, and a 45 degree twist and linear actuator.