Our main focus here at Stanford consists of creating novel small mechanisms that take advantage of recent developments in Shape Deposition Manufacturing (SDM, a type of Rapid Prototyping technology). SDM allows us to embed functional components such as sensors and actuators into the structure of the mechanism as well as vary the material properties selectively along the structure. In contrast, small linkages made with traditional manufacturing and pre-fabricated components are dominated by fasteners and connectors.
This approach will allow us to create mechanisms and linkages with integrated sensing and actuation and variable-compliance structures, much the same way that nature composes living organisms. We believe these novel mechanisms will inherently have better functionality and higher robustness.
We now present our approach to creating these parts, using as an example a linkage with an embedded pneumatic actuator, valves, pressure sensor and flexible component.
Figure 1. Two Test parts. The first is a pressure sensing chamber created for a pneumatic piston. A commercial pressure sensor and amplifier circuit are embedded inside. The second is a linkage actuated with embedded motors (6mm diameter).