Section: Application Domains
Robotics in the manufacturing industry is already highly diffused and is one of the ways put forward to maintain the level of competitiveness of companies based in France and to avoid relocation in cheap labor countries. Yet, in France, it is considered that the level of robotization is insufficient compared to Germany, for instance. One of the challenge is the high investment cost for buying robotic arms. In the recent years, it has led the development of « generic » and « flexible » (but rigid) robotic solution that can be produced in series. But their applicability to specific tasks is still challenging or too costly. With the development of 3D printing, we can imagine the development of a complete opposite strategy: a « task-specific » design of robots. Given a task that needs to be performed by a deformable robot: we would optimize the shape of its structure to create the set of desired motion. An second important aspect is the reduction of the manufacturing cost: It is often anticipated that the cost of deformable robots will be low compared to classical rigid robotics. The robot could be built on one piece using rapid prototyping or 3D printers and be more adapted for collaborative work with operators. In this area, using soft materials are particularly convenient as they provide a mass/carried load ratio several orders higher than traditional robots, highly decreasing the kinetic energy and so increasing the motion speed allowed in presence of humans. Moreover, the technology allows more efficient and ergonomic wearable robotic devices, opening the options for exo-skeletons. This remains to be put in place, but it can open new perspectives in robotic applications. A last remarkable property of soft robots is their adaptability to fragile or tortuous environment. For some particular industry (chemistry, food industry...) this could also be an advantage compared to existing rigid solutions. For instance, the German company https://www.festo.com/group/en/cms/12747.htm, key player in the industrial robots field, is experiencing with deformable trunk robot and we are working on their accurate control.
This year (2017), we have started to work more concretely on this domain, with a research contrat with TDR company on design of deformable graspers.