UI researchers make artificial muscles with grant
A professor at the University of Iowa is working with grants to create cephalopod, or sprawling, muscles to improve movement in marine technology.
Caterina Lamuta, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UI, and her research team make artificial muscles that mimic the movement of cephalopod limbs. When completed, the actuators – a device used to move and control a machine – will be attached to marine vehicles to improve underwater handling.
Lamuta recently received a Young Investigators Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, for starting this project. Lamuta said the grant will last for three years and it’s not the first Lamuta has received.
His other grants, awarded by the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research, NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for a total of $ 2 million, according to an article on the Iowa Institute of Hydroscience and Engineering website.
In 2019, Lamuta used funding from the Office of Naval Research to create soft and smart skin, as previously reported by The Iowan Daily. Her current project will build on her previous research, as she plans to combine already developed smart skin with artificial muscles.
“It’s just the skin that can change shape, because in cephalopods there are different muscles called papillae that move up and down to change the roughness,” she said of her old project. “So that the cephalopod could camouflage itself, or it could also change the drag while it was swimming, so for the Navy, we started with what we call a texture modulation device.”
The merger of the two projects, she said, will result in a fully functional artificial cephalopod limb. Examples of cephalopods are octopus, cuttlefish, and squid.
“We’re going to make the real tentacle with all the muscle, so that when we combine that with this project, we have a real tentacle that can do the manipulation and the roughness change at the same time like the octopus does,” a- she declared.
Lamuta said that artificial muscles have different functions depending on how they are integrated into smart skin.
“So you can get a twist, you can get a squeeze [and] bend, so in the end we’ll have a tentacle for movement and manipulation, basically, ”she said. “So it’s a flexible robot that can grab things underwater, and on top of that we’ll add thin skin to change the roughness. “
Parth Kotak, a UI doctoral student and researcher at Lamuta’s Intelligent Multifunctional Material Systems Lab, said that, according to the proposal, the artificial muscles in the new project are specially designed for robots in shallow water. He said that goal is not final, however, and may change.
“With DARPA, they’re looking specifically for autonomous and unmanned robots in shallow environments and some kind of flexible concept,” Kotak said. “Due to the deep sea and the shallow environment, the conditions change completely.”
He said that in shallow environments, robots interact more with objects in the environment, like rocks and corrals.
“Imagine you have to lift something, or you have to hold a camera or equipment, then they need something that’s waterproof, light,” Lamuta said. “That’s why we are making this flexible robot for an underwater application. “
The UI research team’s actuators are unique, she said, because they don’t require high-voltage input to operate and therefore don’t have to carry heavy power supplies. This makes the product portable, she said.
Lamuta added that they make various artificial muscles with different materials and abilities.
“The one we made from carbon fiber and silicone rubber, they can lift up to 12,600 times their own weight,” she said.
Polymer fiber products, on the other hand, can lift a little less but within the same range, Lamuta added. Still, each variant is a combination of lightness and strength, she said.
Lamuta said she only developed curiosity about cephalopods after starting her Navy project in 2019. She said it was a YouTube video of an octopus that sparked the idea of modulation. intelligent skin and, optionally, flexible actuators.
Lamuta said she always knew she wanted to be a researcher, but it wasn’t until high school that she realized she loved engineering.
Kotak, on the other hand, said his passion for engineering dates back to his early childhood.
“I was really obsessed with rockets as a kid, and that’s what I started with in high school, then undergrad, then undergrad – first year – I actually built a bunch of engine pressure rockets, ”he said. “But then I realized I wanted something bigger, so I became a mechanical engineer. “
Lamuta said the team hopes to have a full and functioning artificial underwater octopus within a year and a half, which marks the end of Kotak’s doctorate.
“[The project is in] a very preliminary step, ”said Kotak. “We still sort of perfect our artificial muscles, and then once we perfect the muscles, we go to the actual tentacle assembly.”