Pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs) are used in robotics applications for their light-weight design and superior static performance. Additional PAM benefits are high specific work, high force density, simple design, and long fatigue life. Previous use of PAMs in robotics research has focused on using “large,” full-scale PAMs as actuators. Large PAMs work well for applications with large working volumes that require high force and torque outputs, such as robotic arms. However, in the case of a compact robotic hand, a large number of degrees of freedom are required. A human hand has 35 muscles, so for similar functionality, a robot hand needs a similar number of actuators that must fit in a small volume. Therefore, using full scale PAMs to actuate a robot hand requires a large volume which for robotics and prosthetics applications is not feasible, and smaller actuators, such as miniature PAMs, must be used. In order to develop a miniature PAM capable of producing the forces and contractions needed in a robotic hand, different braid and bladder material combinations were characterized to determine the load stroke profiles. Through this characterization, miniature PAMs were shown to have comparably high force density with the benefit of reduced actuator volume when compared to full scale PAMs. Testing also showed that braid-bladder interactions have an important effect at this scale, which cannot be modeled sufficiently using existing methods without resorting to a higher-order constitutive relationship. Due to the model inaccuracies and the limited selection of commercially available materials at this scale, custom molded bladders were created. PAMs created with these thin, soft bladders exhibited greatly improved performance.

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