US researchers developed a soft robotic gripper that can pick up liquid droplets

The components used in conventional robots are heavy, inflexible, and costly, which makes them unsuitable for specific jobs. In contrast, soft robots can be made for a small fraction of the price of their rigid counterparts while still offering the benefits of portability, gentleness, and light weight.

A team of scientists at Colorado State University (CSU) have developed the first soft robotic gripper that can successfully manipulate individual droplets of liquid. The manipulators are made with superomniphobic surfaces and thermo-responsive soft actuators.

The soft robotic manipulator is made of low-cost materials like nylon fibers and adhesive tape, and is powered by an electrically actuated artificial muscle. Using this combination, we can create inexpensive, lightweight grippers that are 100 times stronger than human muscle for the same weight, allowing them to perform delicate job with ease.

Postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Adaptive Robotics Laboratory and co-first author Jiefeng Sun said “A single gripper as large as my finger is one or two grams, including the artificial muscle embedded. And it’s inexpensive – just one or two dollars,”

The droplet manipulator is only feasible because of the unique superomniphobic coating applied to the soft robotic grippers. The coating is impervious to wetting by practically all liquids, and this holds true even when the contact surfaces are angled or otherwise in motion. The soft robotic manipulator can interact with droplets without disrupting their surface tension because to the superomniphobic coating. So that it can handle individual drops like soft, malleable objects, picking them up, transporting them, and releasing them with ease.

There are many types of liquid spills, and human cleaning is often risky owing to toxicity, disease transmission, or environmental risks. These disposable droplet manipulators can clean up liquids with pinpoint accuracy and minimal waste, something no robot has been able to do before.

Scientists hope that their biofluid manipulators will pave the way for the creation of low-cost, simple, and portable robotic systems that will make point-of-care operations possible, especially in developing countries, by reducing the need for manual labor and limiting exposure to infectious agents.

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