JamBots: Soft Robots Based on Particle Jamming, Like this Hexapod from iRobot

JamBot: A hexapod robot based on particle jamming

iRobot has received ample attention for their particle jamming innovations (ie, the "Jamming Blob Robot" and "Jamming Gripper"), created under the now-expired DARPA Chembot program.  However, if you're like me, their particle jamming actuators and hexapod "JamBot" probably alluded your attention -- and they're stinkin' cool!  That said, I'd like to introduce you to the "Hexapod JamBot" and the "Jamming Modulated Unimorph (JMU) actuator" created by researchers at iRobot and the Jaeger Group at the University of Chicago.


iRobot created some unique technologies as part of the (now-expired) DARPA Chembot program.  Specifically, they pioneered particle jamming techniques for robot locomotion (left) and robot grasping (middle and right):

Robot motion using particle jamming Particle jamming gripper  Jamming Gripper


However, you probably missed their more recent developments, unveiled at a press event in Manhattan last October.1  In fact, I only found out about the new developments while surfing Annan Mozeika's homepage.  (Annan is an iRobot researcher.)  So, without further ado...



Hexapod JamBot: 


Here are some photos of the Hexapod JamBot:

JamBot: A hexapod robot based on particle jamming  JamBot: A hexapod robot based on particle jamming

JamBot: A hexapod robot based on particle jamming JamBot: A hexapod robot based on particle jamming Jambot with Annan Mozeika


Regrettably, I've been unable to obtain a nice video of the Hexapod Jambot in operation.  The best video I could find was the one below.  (Note to iRobot folks: contact me if you locate a better video!)


I'm busy packing for my move to Duke University,2 so I'm going to cop-out a little bit and rely on quotes...  From Charlie Vaida, PR Manager at iRobot Corporation, who also provided some of the higher-res photos above:

Jamming Modulated Unimorph (JMU) Hexapod:

The JMU hexapod robot platform utilizes six jamming modulated unimorph segments for legs.  The body is also composed of six individually addressable jammable chambers.  The jamming hexapod (JHEX) can either be completely soft (including body) in an unjammed state or rigid in a jammed state.  Some rudimentary tripod-like walking gaits were developed.  This legged robot is capable of entering a "completely soft" and compliant state.

Work continues with soft robots and utilizing jamming in mobile robotics. We continue to find additional applications for jamming in robotics, including a jamming manipulator.



Jamming Modulated Unimorph:


The Hexapod JamBot relies on six JMU actuators.  To quote a recent paper entitled, "Jamming as an Enabling Technology for Soft Robotics,"

The JMU uses a single linear actuator and a discrete number of jamming cells to turn the 1 degree of freedom (DOF) linear actuator into a multi DOF bending actuator.  The JMU uses a single linear actuator and a discrete number of jamming cells to turn the 1 degree offreedom (DOF) linear actuator into a multi DOF bending actuator.


The basic premise is illustrated below:

Jamming linear actuator


Researchers have developed a number of JMU actuators, as can be seen in the photographs below:

Jamming actuator Jamming actuator Jamming actuator


The basic construction (heck, even the hexapod exemplar robot) strongly remind me of their electroactive polymer (EAP) counterparts: a "spring roll" artificial muscle actuator (left) and hexapod (right):

Electroactive polymer actuator  Electroactive Polymer Robot



Additionally, it would seem that some researchers believe particle jamming is useful outside of robotics too.... to quote the Cornell Creative Machines Lab:

Particle jamming structures  Particle jamming structures

The images above show a truss structure assembled from beams of granular materials.  The image on the left shows the jammed configuration, where the beams behave like solid members.  The image on the right shows the un-jammed configuration, where the beams have more fluidic properties.  We are currently working to create complex structures with controllable material properties based on this behavior. 





1:  The Hexapod JamBot was covered briefly by Technologizer, FastCompany, PC-World, and ChipChick back in October 2010 following an iRobot press event in Manhattan.  However, they failed to (1) follow up with technical details and (2) broadly expose the project to roboticists.  (I'm operating under the premise that if I haven't seen it, then you probably haven't either.  I read something like 600 RSS feeds, and I missed it the first time around!)  So we'll just assume this hasn't been covered before.  ;-)

2:  Yep, I finally finished my PhD -- I'm now "Dr. Travis Deyle."   The PhD defense went swimmingly, and I've turned in the official "camera ready" version of the dissertation (I'll write about it on Hizook after we get confirmation of journal paper acceptance).  Furthermore, I was awarded a prestigious NSF Computing Innovation (CI) Postdoc Fellowship to work under my long-time mentor, Dr. Matt Reynolds... so I'm off to Duke University. I'm not exactly sure what to call my new appointment, perhaps: "entrepreneurial scientist." Basically, I'm going to work on research projects with near-term commercial potential and try to shepherd them out of the lab.  The fellowship affords me a lot of freedom, so there's a strong likelihood that I'll double-down on Hizook too (develop real products, apply for an SBIR, perhaps some consulting, etc).  I've got a few things in the pipeline, but if you're interested in collaborating on a project, be sure to contact me.



I wonder if there's a benefit to combining several different paradigms, with the segmented actuators in the JamBots, the 'continuous' hydraulics of the CWRU Softworm, and the simple NiTi wires and proprioception of the MIT Meshworm.


Couldn't one simulate earthworm setae, using the "climbing skins" of cross-country skiers to promote one-directional movement? (Would you call this frictional anisotropy?)


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