Aerial robot powered by soft actuators

This is the first heavier-than-air aerial robot that is solely actuated by soft actuators. In addition to demonstrating controlled flight, this robot can sense and survive in-flight collisions.

While traditional soft actuators have demonstrated muscle-like characteristics (high energy density, robustness, etc), many of these cannot operate at high frequencies (>100 Hz). We developed novel dielectric elastomer actuators (DEA) that can drive a flapping wing robot at 300 Hz. We further demonstrated open-loop takeoff, passively stable ascending flight, and closed-loop hovering flights in these robots. Not only are they resilient against collisions with nearby obstacles, they can also sense these impact events.  This work shows soft robots can be agile, robust, and controllable, which are important for developing next generation of soft robots for diverse applications such as environmental exploration and manipulation.