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comment by OftenBen
OftenBen  ·  7 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Actually, it’s more like fear…

Is this when soft robotics with pneumatic or hydraulic systems step in?

I was thinking about this and related projects in non mechanical robotics.

kleinbl00  ·  6 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The power, efficiency and speed of shape memory alloy - which is what all these projects rely on - does not lend itself well to power transmission.

I ended up getting a super-duper tour of the Microsoft design lab and they had some stuff out. I looked at one and went "holy shit - is that nitinol?" and the engineer tried real hard to keep the shit-eating grin off his face." "Yeah, that's nitinol." "You guys are prototyping nitinol actuation?"

"We're in production on nitinol actuation."

That was 2018. If you look up "microsoft surface detach" on Youtube you will find a couple dozen videos about what to do when it doesn't work.

That's how far along we are with "soft robotics:" bleeding-edge tweaker product designers sneaking it into halo projects and having it not work.

Pneumatic systems work great, so long as you understand their limitations. Air is compressible. That makes everything tricky. You also have a limit of "hard vacuum" which is why any schlub can pull up a syringe with a cap on it, unless that syringe is like an inch and a half in diameter. 14.7 psi. That's the speed of light. You wanna pick up a 100lb load using pneumatics in retraction? You need a tube more than an inch and a half in diameter. And since you're mostly doing this stuff around joints you're talking torque and 100 in-lbs is minor leagues.

Hydraulic systems? Also work great. Also aren't fast. A hydraulic piston needs a hydraulic pump somewhere and in the end, it's nothing more than force conversion.

The whole of the animal kingdom operates on force through retraction and to date, the only material we have that works like that is SMA:

    The challenges in designing SMA applications are to overcome their limitations, which include a relatively small usable strain, low actuation frequency, low controllability, low accuracy and low energy efficiency.

Kid's shows were freaky once. Nickelodeon had a show, that wasn't any of these, about a kid who ends up befriending a juvenile alien that was of course an invisible cloud because it was iTV and cheap. The kid is showing off his family's new car to this space alien who laughs and points because humans were so obsessed with wheels. Some screenwriter in 1970s England was making a commentary on how pretty much everything the human race has ever done is some form of rotary motion and he wasn't wrong. Obviously it was formative for me.

There are positioning systems that don't rely on rotary motion. Linear servos are definitely a thing. They're even dumbly accurate.

But they aren't muscles, and won't be any time soon.