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© Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

GRACE is an acronym for the rather unwieldy project title “Geometry-based Actuators able to Contract and Elongate”, in German: Stellglieder, die sich aufgrund ihrer Geometrie ausdehnen und zusammenziehen können. The pneumatic muscles were developed by a team of researchers from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT, Italian Institute of Technology) in Genoa and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies) in Pisa. The work was published in the journal Science Robotics. The team demonstrated the versatility of the actuators with the example of a complex pneumatic hand with 18 different GRACE elements, which was 3D printed in one pass: A pressure of a few tenths of a bar is enough to bend the fingers, turn the palm and rotate the wrist. The hand weighs about 100 grams and is comparable in size to that of a human being.

Basically, actuators enable robots and other machines to move and thus interact with their environment: From simple grippers to complex kinematics based on models from living nature. Typical electrically or pneumatically driven actuators are relatively complex mechanical components with motors, cylinders and joints. This is easier with a GRACE: these actuators can expand and contract due to their geometric shape, which resembles a spindle with folds. Several of the actuators can be printed in one piece in complex moulds made of elastic resins to provide the required types of movement.

The charm of this innovation, also from a design perspective, lies in the fact that such actuators can be customised for use in a wide variety of robots and can be produced easily, cost-effectively and decentrally – interesting for prototyping and customisation as well as for projects in design research and teaching.

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