Soft Elastomeric Technology for Rapidly Deployable Manipulation Capability
Navy SBIR 2015.1 - Topic N151-066
ONR - Ms. Lore-Anne Ponirakis - [email protected]
Opens: January 15, 2015 - Closes: February 25, 2015 6:00am ET

N151-066 TITLE: Soft Elastomeric Technology for Rapidly Deployable Manipulation Capability

TECHNOLOGY AREAS: Ground/Sea Vehicles

ACQUISITION PROGRAM: PMS 408 Explosive Ordnance Disposal & NAVFAC; Proposed POM-17 FNC ARMS

OBJECTIVE: Develop and demonstrate technologies to fabricate cost-effective rapidly deployable lightweight actuated inflatable single or dual arm manipulation systems for integration onto underwater unmanned platforms.

DESCRIPTION: Recent advances make it feasible to use compliant (elastomeric) materials in the fabrication of lightweight actuated inflatable manipulation systems which are resilient to impact, can be compactly stowed and are safe to operate near humans. Such manipulation systems would avoid costly motors by replacing them with pump driven fluid-filled fabric membranes. Nature provides many examples of animals that have developed superior strategies for manipulation of their surroundings through the use of soft, robust and fast mechanisms. These abilities have proven difficult to emulate with traditional engineering approaches, but new developments in inflatable technology using pressurized membranes made of compliant (elastomeric) materials create new opportunities for affordable manipulation systems for a range of naval underwater missions. The technical challenges include the design of integrated actuation and fabric, distributed actuation to mimic effective bio-inspired energy efficiency, and dexterity to perform an array of underwater tasks. The manipulation system can be a single or dual-manipulator configuration. It should be able to perform elementary tasks such as precise positioning of objects or tools, removal or emplacement of objects (lifting at least 25 pounds), and pull or twist manipulations (eg. unscrewing a cap from a pipe), which are common tasks performed in explosive ordnance disposal. The target specifications include either two symmetric arms, each with 7 degrees of freedom, or two asymmetric arms, one having 7 and the other 5 degrees of freedom, each arm weighing less than 8 pounds. End effectors should have at least 3 fingers. Ideally, these arms would be capable of operating on land or underwater, to depths of 200 feet.

PHASE I: Determine technical feasibility and define approaches for using compliant (elastomeric) materials to develop a single or dual-arm manipulation system capable of being integrated onto an unmanned underwater platform. The Phase I report shall clearly explain the operational capabilities and limitations of the technology. The results shall include a preliminary design for Phase II consideration.

PHASE II: Finalize the design and demonstrate a working prototype of the single or dual-arm manipulation system. Demonstrate the ability to perform tasks such as the precise positioning of tools or small objects, attachment of lift bags or removal lines to remove objects, surface preparation for adhering tools, and operations like pull or twist. The mechanism of stowage and deployment should be developed and the space requirements specified. A design for an integrated system with a suitable platform, such a hovering autonomous underwater vehicle like the Bluefin HAUV, should be specified.

PHASE III: Prepare final production design for the manipulation system, build the initial production unit and integrate into the acquisition program for deployment into the Fleet.

PRIVATE SECTOR COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL/DUAL-USE APPLICATIONS: Maritime technology, oil and gas industries, mining, oceanography

1. Siddharth Sanan, Peter S. Lynn and Saul T. Griffith. Pneumatic Torsional Actuators for Inflatable Robots. J. Mechanisms Robotics 6(3), 031003 (Apr 03, 2014) paper No. JMR-13-1081.

2. Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) Strategic Plan

3. iRobot's Inflatable Arm Could Be the Future of Grappling.

4. Inflatable Robots by Otherlab: A Walking Robot (named Ant-Roach) and a Complete Arm (Plus Hand).

KEYWORDS: Elastomeric manipulators; Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV); compliant manipulators; soft robotics; explosive ordnance disposal (EOD)

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