Soft Robotics Hack Chat

Robotics doesn't have to be hard

Wednesday, October 27, 2021 12:00 pm PDT Local time zone:
Hack Chat
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Ali Shtarbanov will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, October 27 at noon Pacific.

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By this point in technological history, we've all been pretty well trained in how to think about robots. Designs vary wildly, but to achieve their goals, most robots have one thing in common: they're rigid. Whether it's a robot arm slinging a spot welder on an assembly line or a robot dog on patrol, they're largely made of stiff, strong, materials that, more often than not, are powered by electric motors of some sort.

But just because that's the general design palette for robotics doesn't mean there aren't other ways. Robots, especially those that are intended to be used in close association with humans, can often benefit from being a little more flexible. And that's where the field of soft robotics shines. Rather than a skeleton of machined aluminum and powerful electric actuators, these robots tend more toward silicone rubber construction with pneumatic activation. Some soft robots are even compliant and safe enough to be wearable, giving humans the ability to do things they never could before, or perhaps restoring functions that have been lost to the ravages of entropy.

Soft robotics is a fascinating field with the potential to really revolutionize things like wearables and collaborative robotics. To help us understand a little more about what's going on in this space, we're pleased to welcome Ali Shtarbanov to the Hack Chat. Ali is a Ph.D. student at MIT's famed Media Lab, where he studies Human-Computer Interaction. He's particularly interested in making soft robotics as fast and easy to prototype as traditional robotics have become, and to this end, he invented FlowIO, an open-source platform for pneumatic control. We'll use this as a jumping-off point to discuss the whole field of soft robotics, especially where it is now and where Ali sees it going in the future.

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 2

    Dan Maloney10/27/2021 at 20:04 0 comments

    Ali Shtarbanov12:54 PM
    @kjansky1 Here is one example of what you just mentioned

    Ali Shtarbanov12:56 PM
    @CocaKolev I also can't think of any right now

    Inne12:59 PM
    Is there a rule of thumb how large air cavities should be in pneumatic silicone actuators??

    Ali Shtarbanov12:59 PM
    Someone asked about piezo pumps. I never used those due to their high cost. But another big limitation with them is the very low flow rate.

    Inne1:00 PM
    Ok so not as awesome yet. Glad it saved me 350 dollars (for now ;) )

    Dan Maloney1:00 PM
    We're at the end of our allotted hour, so we'll have to wrap it up and let Ali get back to work. I just want to say a big thanks to him for spending time with us today, and to everyone for the great discussion. But feel free to keep the discussion going -- the Hack Chat is always open!

    Ali Shtarbanov1:00 PM
    You are welcome :)

    kjansky11:01 PM
    Best of luck in your work.

    Ali Shtarbanov1:01 PM
    Thank you! And if you have any questions, feel free to message me on any of the platforms I am on.

    Inne1:02 PM
    Thanks @Ali Shtarbanov I will check out

    CocaKolev1:02 PM
    Thanks @Ali Shtarbanov !

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

    Dan Maloney10/27/2021 at 20:03 0 comments

    Dan Maloney12:01 PM
    OK, folks, welcome to the last Hack Chat of October! I'm Dan, and along with Dusan I'll be moderating for Ali Shtarbanov today as we talk about soft robotics.

    Nicolas Tremblay12:01 PM
    Not a group, but assisting devices plenty

    Inne12:01 PM
    awesome topic

    Dusan Petrovic12:01 PM
    Hello and welcome!

    Ali Shtarbanov12:01 PM
    Hi everyone!

    Dan Maloney12:01 PM
    I saw Ali sign on before - ah, there you are. Welcome!

    Inne12:01 PM
    I really like the flowio it seems super solid

    Dan Maloney12:02 PM
    Can you start us off with a little about your background, Ali?

    morgan joined  the room.12:02 PM

    Ali Shtarbanov12:02 PM

    Helen joined  the room.12:02 PM

    Ali Shtarbanov12:02 PM
    I am an HCI Researcher, System designer, and Ph.D. candidate at MIT Media Lab. I develop open-source platforms, tools, and other enabling technologies that empower researchers, designers, artists, and makers with new technological opportunities to rapidly bring projects and ideas to life.

    Ali Shtarbanov12:02 PM
    My current work focuses on developing and deploying novel tools and resources for soft robotics and programmable materials to make prototyping and innovation in those fields more seamless and more accessible. The FlowIO I developed is currently being used by over a dozen HCI and robotics researchers in about 10 countries. My prior research was on multimodal interactive interfaces and mid-air haptic feedback.

    Ali Shtarbanov12:03 PM
    Prior to MIT Media Lab, I got degrees in EE and Physics

    RichardCollins12:03 PM
    @Nicolas Tremblay Seems a lot to unconnected efforts to go through. Suggestion for how to help organize for efficient covering all the bases? Sorry to interrupt, just rather urgent. Thanks.

    Sandeep Zechariah George joined  the room.12:04 PM

    Inne12:05 PM
    I would love if the hobbyist community would embrace soft robotics more

    do you know if there are there any hidden place where soft robotics hobbyist hang out.

    Dan Maloney12:05 PM
    So do you feel like pneumatic or hydraulic actuators are what put the "soft" in soft robotics? Or are there electromechanical actuators that can do the same kind of jobs?

    Dan Maloney12:06 PM
    For example, I caught this the other day in my feed:

    Dan Maloney12:06 PM


    jordanbrandes12:06 PM
    that blew my mind Dan

    Nicolas Tremblay12:07 PM
    I've seen and read a lot about research on soft robotics, but There isn't many basis to get you off the ground and running

    Dan Maloney12:07 PM
    Not really sure how to classify something like that

    Ali Shtarbanov12:07 PM
    Through the website, which I launched earlier this year, I have been getting several requests and questions from people from all kinds of backgrounds. Most are from academia but also a few hobbyists.

    Ali Shtarbanov12:08 PM
    "Soft" is about the compliance in the actuators, and there are multiple actuation mechanisms that are possible. Pneumatic, Hydraulic, Electromagnetic, Tendon-driven, to name a few.

    Ali Shtarbanov12:09 PM
    Here is a useful resource I created as an introduction to the field:

    Ali Shtarbanov12:09 PM


    SoftRobotics.IO | Intro to Soft Robots

    Intro to Soft Robotics Workshop How To Make (Almost) Anything, Fall 2019 Systems built from highly-compliant materials with mechanical properties similar to those found in living tissues. Many kinds of soft robots exist, but in this workshop we will focus primarily on pneumatically actuated soft robots.

    Read this on SoftRoboticsIO

    Ali Shtarbanov12:10 PM
    And another one more specific to modular soft robots:

    Ali Shtarbanov12:10 PM


    SoftRobotics.IO | Modular Soft Robots

    Expand/Collapse All Sections Pros + Versatility + Robustness - modular upgrades & repairs + Low cost for manufacturing & maintenance + Adaptability to changing task & environments + Ease of repair by changing...

    Read more »

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