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A soft valve for autonomous control of soft actuators

Soft robots utilize  pneumatics as the primary method of actuation.  A key challenge for pneumatic actuators are the control systems, which still rely on rigid valves (typically solenoid valves) and electronic components.  This invention is a soft, pneumatic valve, which uses the snap-through instability of a hemispherical membrane to switch between different pressures of air or other gases.  For example, it can be implemented in applications such as a soft gripper, which autonomously grasps objects upon contact.  A “starfish” gripper utilizing this valve can autonomously grasps a tennis ball upon contact of the ball with the “palm” of the gripper, thereby triggering the valve.  It can also be used as an oscillator, that can periodically inflate and deflate soft actuators, by employing the valve in a feed-back control scheme.  As a result, it can act as a switch for automated functions in soft devices, enabling autonomous feed-back and feed-forward control in soft actuators.  For example, the ability to generate oscillations inside of a robot makes it possible to construct a fully soft, untethered soft robot, that can react to stimuli from the environment.  The valve design is simple, modular and scalable approach that can be easily integrated into existing soft actuator implementations.

Intellectual Property Status: Patent(s) Pending