Researchers develop first real-time physics engine for flexible robotic materials
Cinematic animation and video games are incredibly realistic these days, capturing a lock of hair falling over a heroine’s eyes or a canvas sail flapping in the wind. Collaborators from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Carnegie Mellon University have adapted this sophisticated computer graphics technology to simulate the movements of soft-limbed robots for the first time. The results were published Nature Communications.
“We have achieved a faster-than-real-time simulation of soft robots, and this is a major step towards such robots that are autonomous and can plan their actions on their own,” the author said. study Khalid Jawed, assistant professor of mechanics and aerospace. engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “Soft robots are made of a flexible material, which makes them inherently resistant to damage and potentially much safer in interaction with humans. Prior to this study, predicting the movement of these robots was difficult because they change shape during the functioning.”
Movies often use an algorithm called Discrete Elastic Rods (DER) to animate fluid objects. DER can predict hundreds of moves in less than a second. The researchers wanted to create a physics engine using DER that could simulate the movements of bio-inspired robots and robots in harsh environments, such as the surface of Mars or underwater.
Another algorithm-based technology, the finite element method (FEM), can simulate the motions of solid and rigid robots, but it is not well suited to address the intricacies of smooth, natural motions. It also requires significant time and computing power.
Sequence of a simulation showing a limp robot with seven flexible limbs planning its forward motion.
Image credit: Khalid Jawed/UCLA
Until now, roboticists have used a painstaking process of trial and error to study the dynamics of soft material systems, the design and control of soft robots.
“Robots made from hard, inflexible materials are relatively easy to model using existing computer simulation tools,” said Carmel Majidi, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “Until now, there were no good software tools to simulate soft and squishy robots. Our work is one of the first to demonstrate how soft robots can be successfully simulated using the same simulation software. infographic that has been used to model hair and fabrics in blockbuster movies and animated films.”
Researchers began working together in Majidi’s Soft Machines Lab more than three years ago. Continuing their collaboration on this latest work, Jawed ran the simulations in his research lab at UCLA while Majidi performed the physical experiments that validated the simulation results.
The research was funded in part by the Army Research Office.
“Experimental progress in soft robotics has exceeded theory for several years,” said Samuel Stanton, a program manager at the Army Research Office, an element of the Army Research Laboratory of the Capability Development Command. US Army combat. “This effort is an important step in our ability to predict and design the dynamics and control of highly deformable robots operating in confined spaces with complex contacts and constantly changing environments.”
Researchers are now working to apply this technology to other types of soft robots, such as those inspired by the movements of bacteria and starfish. These swimming robots could be fully autonomous and used in oceanography to monitor water conditions sea or inspect the condition of fragile marine life.
The new simulation tool can dramatically reduce the time it takes to get a software robot from drawing board to application. While robots are still a long way from reaching the efficiency and capabilities of natural systems, computer simulations can help close this gap.
The co-first authors of the paper are Weicheng Huang from UCLA and Xiaonan Huang from Carnegie Mellon.
A video shows a dynamic simulation of flexible articulated robots.