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Popcorn-Driven Robotic Actuators

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The prototype of a popcorn-powered three-finger gripper.

Cornell University researchers are powering biodegradable robotic actuators by popping corn.

Credit: Cornell University

Cornell University researchers have devised ways for biodegradable robotic actuators to be powered by popping corn.

The researchers developed a proof of concept that demonstrates soft, compliant, and rigid-link grippers that use popcorn as an indirect power source. Kernels are stored in a flexible container between two plates with wires attached to them, and the popping kernels force the plates apart and pull on the wires, which can be used to actuate whatever the designer wants.

The team created a prototype of a popcorn-powered three-finger gripper using three-dimensionally-printed components and a kernel-filled pouch; when the kernels pop, they elevate the gripper's top section, making the fingers close.

"The amount of expansion is...going to affect the amount of force that is exerted when the kernel pops, so this means we could have a good amount of control over the exerted force simply by choosing the heating method," notes Cornell's Steven Ceron.

From IEEE Spectrum
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