MIT used offline knitting to create these soft, robotic banana fingers.

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The MIT CSAIL team calls them “banana fingers” and I can’t help but agree. They are oblong and bright yellow, but as attractive as they may seem at first glance, they really do their job. The glove is actually a kind of soft robot. It uses a pneumatic actuator (air force, if you will) as an auxiliary wearable.

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If you have, say, a problem with muscle control, gloves can literally help you grip by pumping air to help them open and close. One of the things that makes the project especially interesting is the use of conductive yarn, which gives the gloves a kind of built-in sense of touch.

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The glove was created using a system called “PneuAct” – a portmanteau of pneumatic actuator – detailed in the new paper. It uses an offline machine knitting system.

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“A human designer simply specifies stitch patterns and sensors in the software to program how the drive will move, and then it can be simulated before printing,” writes MIT. “The fabric is made on a knitting machine that can be attached to an inexpensive standard rubber silicone tube to complete the drive.”

Banana fingers are one of several prototypes created in the lab. The list also includes an autonomous soft robotic arm and a four-legged robot that uses air pressure to walk. Extrapolating further, CSAIL envisions more complex systems, including things like exoskeletons. Wearable soft robotics can be used to help move other parts of the body.

Image credits: Massachusetts Institute of Technology CSAIL

“Using digital machine knitting, which is a very common manufacturing method in today’s textile industry, allows the design to be “printed” in one go, making it much more scalable,” says Yiyue Luo, head of the newspaper. “Soft pneumatic actuators are inherently compatible and flexible, and when combined with smart materials, they have become the backbone of many robots and assistive technologies, and we hope that rapid fabrication with our design tool can increase simplicity and ubiquity.”

In recent years, exoskeletons have become an increasingly popular category of robotics with a focus on performance and mobility. While most use a harder material, many startups have begun to focus on softer versions made from textiles that sacrifice overall durability for a design that works more comfortably with the human form.


Credit: techcrunch.com /

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