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Sophie Leanza

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“Elephant Trunk Inspired Multimodal Deformations and Movements of Soft Robotic Arms”

Advised by Prof. Renee Zhao

Abstract: Elephant trunks are capable of complex, multimodal deformations, allowing them to perform task-oriented high-degree-of-freedom (DOF) movements pertinent to the field of soft actuators. Despite recent advances, most soft actuators can only achieve one or two deformation modes, limiting their range of motion and applications. Inspired by the elephant trunk musculature, we propose a liquid crystal elastomer (LCE)-based multi-fiber design strategy for soft robotic arms in which a discrete number of artificial muscle fibers can be selectively actuated, achieving multimodal deformations and transitions between modes for continuous movements. Through experiments and finite element analysis (FEA), we study the influence of LCE fiber design on the achievable deformations, movements, and reachability of trunk-inspired robotic arms. We parametrically investigate fiber geometry for 2-fiber robotic arms and characterize the tilting and bending of these arms. We additionally study a 3-fiber robotic arm with a simplified fiber arrangement analogous to that of an actual elephant trunk. The remarkably broad range of deformations and the reachability of the arm are explored, alongside transitions between deformation modes for functional movements. We anticipate that our design and actuation strategy will serve as a robust method to realize high-DOF soft actuators for various engineering applications.