Kevin Chen
Ass. Professor
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA

Agile, robust, and efficient micro-aerial-robots powered by soft artificial muscles

Recent advances in microrobotics have demonstrated remarkable locomotive capabilities such as hovering flights, impulsive jumps, and fast running in insect-scale robots. However, most microrobots that are powered by power-dense rigid actuators have not achieved insect-like collision resilience. In this talk, I will present our recent effort in developing a new class of microrobots – ones that are powered by high bandwidth soft actuators and equipped with rigid appendages for effective interactions with environments. Towards improving collision robustness of micro-aerial robots, we develop the first heavier-than-air aerial robot powered by soft artificial muscles that demonstrates a 20-second hovering flight. In addition, our robot can recover from an in-flight collision and perform a somersault within 0.16 seconds. The robot’s maximum lift is comparable to that of the best rigid-powered sub-gram robots. This work demonstrates for the first time that soft aerial robots can achieve agile and robust flight capabilities absent in rigid-powered micro-aerial vehicles, thus showing the potential of a new class of hybrid soft-rigid robots.