December 2019 Issue
Research Highlights

Stretchable electric pumps for next-generation soft robotics

Stretchable pump consisting of soft materials (Credit: Vito Cacucciolo / 2019 EPFL)

Soft robots that are composed of compliant materials, offer important advantages over conventional rigid robots, such as simplified body structure and control as well as high robustness and versatility.

Fluidic soft actuators are one of the most widespread technologies in soft robotics. However, fluidically driven systems require rigid pumps or compressors that make the system complicated and bulky.

Jun Shintake at the University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo, and colleagues at the Shibaura Institute of Technology, Japan, and at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland have developed a soft and stretchable pump that is made of compliant materials.

The device works by the principle of electro-hydrodynamics that transform electric energy to the kinetic energy of fluids. Through experiments, the soft pump showed specific pressure and flow rate comparable to traditional rigid compressors. Moreover, several soft robotic applications using the same technology were demonstrated: a textile glove for on-body thermal regulation and fluidic muscles. These results illustrate the high potential of the device developed in this research as key elements for the creation of next-generation soft robotic systems.


Rei Furukawa
  • Authors: Vito Cacucciolo, Jun Shintake, Yu Kuwajima, Shingo Maeda, Dario Floreano, Herbert Shea
  • Title of original paper: Stretchable pumps for soft machines
  • Journal, volume, pages and year: Nature, vol. 672, no. 7770, pp. 516-519
  • Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1038/s41586-019-1479-6
  • Affiliations: The University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo; Shibaura Institute of Technology; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne