Date of Award

August 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical Engineering

Committee Member

Suyi Li

Committee Member

Oliver Myers

Committee Member

Ian Walker


This study analyzes a biology inspired approach of utilizing a compliant unit actuator to simplify the control requirements for a soft robotic arm. A robot arm is constructed from a series of compliant unit actuators that precisely actuate between two stable states. The extended state can be characterized as a rigid link with a high bending stiffness. The compressed state can be characterized as a flexible joint with a low bending stiffness. Without the use of an external power source, the bistable mechanism remains in each of the stable states. The unit actuator can demonstrate pseudo-linkage kinematics that require less control parameters than entirely soft manipulators. An advantage of using compliant mechanisms to design a robotic arm is that the bending stiffness ratio between the extended and compressed states is related to the frame and flexural member geometry. Post buckling characteristics of thin flexural members, combined with a cantilever style frame design gives the unit actuator versatile advantages over existing actuator designs like layer jamming and shape memory polymers. To achieve efficient movement with the optimized unit actuator design, experimental validation was performed, and a robotic arm prototype was fabricated. The tendon-driven robotic arm consisted of three modules and proved the capability of transforming and rotating in the eight configurations. The deformations of the robotic arm are accurately predicted by the kinematic model and validate the compliant mechanism arm and simple control system.



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