Modular assembly of soft deployable structures and robots†
Modular assembly is a widely-used strategy for fabricating diverse structures and robots, and more recently also for producing complex soft structures and machines. This work introduces a modular assembly method for soft deployable structures composed of identical soft deployable modules using embedded magnetic elements for the rapid assembly and disassembly of structures. The developed modules are fabricated from smart soft composites, consist of two soft hinge actuators, and can transform from a compact configuration into a deployed quadrate configuration through the actuation of both soft hinge actuators. The modules are assembled together using 3D printed parts and embedded compact magnets that allow them to be easily assembled and disassembled to form complex soft deployable structures. Hence, by assembling together identical soft deployable modules in different manners, different types of soft deployable structures were easily built and tested by re-utilizing the modules. This work also introduces the first soft robot, called DeployBot, capable of both deploying itself and of movement without additional motors. This robot starts in a folded and compact configuration and deploys autonomously into a functional machine being able to perform a walking motion with different gaits. The proposed approach highlights a robust strategy for the rapid and simple prototyping of various complex soft deployable structures and machines.