What is it about?

We developed programmable, nonelectronic circuits that control the actions of soft robots by processing information encoded in bursts of compressed air. Our soft controllers are fully integrated with both digital (discrete) and analog (continuous) functions, which simplify the overall system architecture and enable simpler, safer, and user-friendly soft robots and human-device interfaces. Three demonstrations showcase the capabilities include (i) a wearable glove capable of analog control of a soft artificial robotic hand based on input from a human users’ fingers; (ii) a human-controlled cushion matrix designed for use in medical care; and (iii) an untethered robot which travels a distance dynamically programmed at the time of operation to retrieve an object.

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Why is it important?

We designed soft pneumatic (nonelectronic, pressure-controlled) valves to allow complex sequences of actuation and precise control of forces in both digital and analog formats. These valves leverage the nonlinear mechanics of soft materials. Based on this design, we created systems capable of analog pressure regulation, linear actuation, digital logic, pressure amplification, controlled oscillation, nonvolatile memory storage, and interfacing with human users. Combining digital and analog components enables control circuits with significantly fewer physical valves compared to equivalent, but strictly digital, circuits. The programmability of these valves (i.e., with tunable pressures of actuation and output) simplifies the operation of multi-pressure systems, helping untether robotics and creating intuitive, human-friendly devices.


Three highlights of this work are: i) all control elements are programmable, meaning users can easily customize the settings of the valves; ii) a fully integrated digital-analog control system enables user-friendly and multi-functional devices; and iii) a unified modular design simplifies fabrication, reduces cost, and makes soft robots and soft devices more accessible to everyone.

Haihui Joy Jiang
Harvard University

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This page is a summary of: Programmable soft valves for digital and analog control, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2205922119.
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