Gabrielle Franzini once encountered an Arduino Microcontroller with a school friend long back. And they both decided to make something cooler with it someday. Finally, they were able to come up with a robot that helped them earn third position in the science fair. As Franzini quotes, “It was made from cardboard and balsa wood, with an ultrasonic sensor. It could basically move forward and turn left. But I thought it was awesome and it made me realize that engineering is what I want to do.
Motivated by the win at the School Science fair, Franzini soon took admission in the Worcester Polytechnic Institute that helped her win several other prizes in coming days. By the final year of her degree in robotics engineering, Franzini worked day in day out with a team and created a robotic manta ray that got her first prize in 2016 Soft Robotics Design Competition. The soft robotics segment deals with flexible actuators and structures that use materials like silicone, fabric, and rubber in place of stiff metals like aluminum, steel, etc.
She explains, “We normally work on rigid systems, “but for this project we wanted to do an underwater robot and explore efficient, low-power propulsion. There is a good correlation between soft robotics and living organisms.” The manta ray designed by them is an efficient swimmer and can easily travel up to long distances with very minimal power output; they found it perfect for their project. Franzini explains her project quite enthusiastically about how they outlined the wings and were able to achieve a complicated “bio-mimetic” flexing motion with the help of a pump, a low powered MSP 432 microcontroller and valves. She further adds, “The robot was designed to glide”
The flexibility of this project came for a price, the soft robot have a huge tendency for deformation and so are pretty difficult to formulate. It was the SOLIDWORKS experience of the team that helped them in gaining an edge over their competitors.
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