In collaboration with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas lead team and other researchers, U mechanical engineering associate professor Kam Leang receives $3.8 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to work on electroactive polymer materials for soft robotics.

This international project addresses a technologically important issue  of soft robotics. Soft robotics is an important emerging field in robotics, mechatronics, and automation. Soft robotic components and systems offer new features and advances over conventional robotic devices. This project focuses on the creation of advanced multifunctional artificial muscles (AM) based on new polymer-metal composites which can be used in soft robotic applications. Artificial muscles can be transformative for millions of people with disabilities. The development of AM will benefit biomimetic soft robotics, medical diagnostics and tools, and invasive surgical systems. The potential market for reliable, cost-effective and easily scalable Ionic Polymer-Metal Composites (IPMCs)-based AM technology is substantial. If successful and cost effective, the impact on people?s lives and on economies could be very significant. The international partners are from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Graduate School of Ocean Systems Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Hybrid Actuator Group, Inorganic Functional Material Research Institute at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan. The international team has strong expertise in manufacture engineering and has the necessary computational and experimental resources. The strength of soft robotics research in Japan and very active industry efforts in Korea are especially valuable.

Owing to their soft and flexible structure and ability to emulate the motion of biological muscles, IPMCs are considered excellent candidates for future AM technology in soft robotic systems. The main challenges with IPMC materials include: relatively high fabrication costs associated with the use of fluorinated ionic polymers, low actuation force, and limited control accuracy. This project will bring together experts from around the world to address these challenges toward developing effective IPMC-based AMs for soft robotic applications.

Learn more about Professor Leang and his research on the U Design, Automation, Robotics & Controls (DARC) Lab site.