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KiPneu makes soft robotic biomimetics accessible to STEAM students

Arduino TeamJuly 10th, 2024

Biomimicry, which is a method for developing new technology inspired by nature, has been one of humanity’s greatest assets. But systems reliant on soft tissue, such as an octopus’s tentacles, have been notoriously difficult to reproduce in the robotics world. To give STEAM students an advantage in the soft robotics arena, a team of Chinese researchers developed a pneumatic biomimicry platform called KiPneu.

Pneumatics are ideal for biomimetic soft robots because they’re subject to fewer of the constraints typical of electric motors and rigid mechanical linkages. KiPneu is a hardware and software ecosystem designed to speed up the assembly of pneumatically actuated soft robots. It consists of inflatable pneumatic actuators and custom bricks compatible with LEGO bricks. Users can use those bricks and actuators to construct the physical forms of their robots.

After construction, students can make their robot move by pumping in air and controlling the flow of that air using valves. The initial prototype relied on an Arduino UNO Rev3 board to control power going to the pump, as well as the positions of the valves. The Arduino could, of course, perform those functions in sequence or in response to input commands, giving the robots the ability to move in complex ways.

But the team also created an electronics-free version, which relies on a hand pump and “tangible valves.” Together, those allow for similar functionality, but the user must pump air and change valve positions manually.

Both KiPneu systems have potential, with the manual system better suited to younger students and the more versatile Arduino-controlled system for the older students. 

Image credit: Guanyun Wang et al.