ChrisC

I’ve added a new sculpted model to the shapeways shop. It’s available in 2 sizes: 12cm and 20cm high. I’ll talk a bit about it below.

So I’ve been working on developing the workflow needed to build this robot. So how to model the overall shape and then how the various muscles and bones will fit into it. A sort of robotic embryogenesis! As this is a lot of tinkering around without much to show I decided to take a few bits of what I’ve been learning (for this and generally through freelancing) and turn it into a sculpture.

I took a model from makehuman and modified it to be more aesthetically pleasing. I then started sculpting into it, using blender. This reminds me that I should really get on with practising in Zbrush! I mainly sculpted in the superficial muscles in and worked on ‘mechanising’ the bones and anchor positions. I added the facial muscles and around the fingers.

I then posed it into a more natural pose and cleaned up the posed model. I then decimated it until it was suitable for 3D printing via shapeways. I also made a version that could be sliced up and printed on my form 2 printer.

I cleaned it up and began to paint it. I started with an airbrush covering in humbrol acrylic primer. I then sanded and cleaned up any more details that weren’t visible in the white print material. A second and third layer of primer followed. Then a coating of satin black. After that I used a brush to add the metallic gold and aluminium colours, and matt white. I went with a gold and black feel inspired by Deus Ex Human Revolution. I added some contour shading, that I’d seen done on some warhammer 40k painting guides. It might have been a good idea to use oil paints to get a good blend, but I didn’t want to spend more time painting. Here are some more of the painted pictures.

Below is a render of what it looks like from multiple angles.

I’ve not been able to make much progress over the last few months, due to other work commitments. I have decided to release the design that I made last year involving the soft robot/bone hybrid. You can find it over one thingiverse. I hope to have something going forward soon. I’m always thinking about the design, but I lack funding for it. If anyone has any guidance, or contacts that they think would be useful to me, then don’t hesitate to contact me.

I should soon be receiving a batch of test prints for the artificial muscle designs. A big thanks to Susan from Rigid.ink, who was able and willing to print out so many parts. These parts have been printed in PLA and PVA. The PVA parts are designed to dissolve inside the muscles and leave them with a more complex internal structure, than otherwise possible. I am also testing a number of flat muscles which will have parallel or converging fibres, as well as single or multichamber designs.

I will need to build a form of Universal testing machine to test these designs out properly.

 

I’ve already got ideas for what next to try, and I’ve decided to focus on the face and head muscles for now. These are smaller, but just as complex. I’ve gotten a skull model now that I can start taking measurements on and so it shouldn’t take long to start making designs, once testing is done.

Plus it might open up options for animatronic design.

I just posted a new video on youtube. It’s a prototype of some of the elements I was talking about in the previous post. Here it is below.

So this test was actually from 6 months ago. As you can see the robot was hardly exactly finished, which is one reason I hadn’t posted it yet. But I’ve realised that I’m likely not going to have a series of ‘finished’ robots before I design the first real prototype anyway, so I might as well post the half (or quarter) finished stuff.

The principle behind this design is that the human body builds joints from hard and flexible materials. In a typical robot, joints are held in place due to rigid material constraints. E.g. in a ball and socket joint the socket needs to encapsulate over 50% of the ball surface in order to hold the ball in place. The sockets in human ball and socket joints barely encapsulate a quarter of the ball. So how do they stay in place? Well the answer is ligaments and the muscle/tendons that anchor it. The shoulder joint in this case supplies a force into the socket cup. It’s enough force to hold it under small forces like gravity, but low enough that there’s not much resistance to it moving.

The spine is slightly different. It uses the principle of ‘tensegrity’, where elements under tension (typically flexible cables) hold rigid components in place. In this case the under tension elements are dragon skin 10 silicone.

The idea moving forward will be to replace the passive silicone pieces for function Pneumatic muscles. This is the next set of testing and once I’ve worked out the characteristics of the muscles I can start working on the practical side of constructing the full size robot.

Update: I have launched a GoFundMe campaign in order to fund the immediate next step of the project which is the muscle survey. The faster this is funded the more time I can spend on getting the results needed.

 

It’s been a while since I last posted here. This has been due to the usual case of when I have resources I don’t have time and when I have time I don’t have resources! Also there were fundamental problems with how I and a lot of other people had been approaching the concept of humanoid robotics. It’s taken time and looking deeply at biology to understand the problems.

So what is the fundamental problem when it comes to building a humanoid robot?

I believe the answer is the actuators. Most of the time robotics use electric motors, either in custom housing or commercial servos. Almost every robot from hobby kits up to research androids use electric motors. Every humanoid robot has been designed around the choice of actuator, and their issues have led to compromises. The more I learn about how the body works the more restrictive these compromises are.

So what is the solution?

The solution is soft robotics. Pneumatics or hydraulic actuators made from soft materials. Pneumatic Artificial Muscles (PAMs) have a long history and have been used for basic humanoid inspired robotics for decades.

LORI SANDERS/ HARVARD UNIVERSITY

Why haven’t they caught on if they’ve been tried so many times?

PAMs have a myriad of their own problems. Firstly there are many different types, ranging from McKibben muscles to Pleated to PEANO designs. Generally speaking a research group comes up with a design, runs some tests and makes a behaviour model and then… Only the Mckibben muscle seems to be in relatively common usage.

Mckibben Muscle gif. Author Rocketmagnet (hugo@shadowrobot.com)

PAMs are notoriously non-linear and can only provide force in one direction. The forces they can produce do not give them any benefits over conventional pneumatics, and due to sliding and flexible parts they often have major wear and tear issues.

 

PAMs also require valves and pressurised gas to operate on. These are optimised for general commercial usage and not for a humanoid robots and so tend to be heavy and bulky. However there are many ways to make a valve and so it is not impossible that more effective ways haven’t been used. One example would be to fit the valves and manifolds (shared gas chambers) into the bone like structural elements.

Robot design with many bulky solenoid valves.

There has also been a structural problem with most PAMs. There are often strictly linear and mimic the fusiform type of muscle. This type of muscle has a single anchor at both ends and the muscle fibres run straight from one to the other. This is the classic type of muscle that people imagine when they think muscle. However there are very few muscles in the body that are actually structured like this.

 

A range of different muscle geometries.

In skeletal muscles the force generated by a muscle is proportional to the physiological cross section. In a fusiform muscle this is the cross section you get if you slice the muscle in half at it’s thickest point. This results in muscles ‘geared’ to large strain and low force. But there are other muscle geometries, such as Pennate muscles. These muscles have their muscle fibres arranged at an angle to the tendons and the direction of force. A number of muscles that help flex the fingers are of this type. This generates a larger force but sacrifices strain. The fingers can only bend so far and are needed to carry heavy objects, so this is fine.

Cross sectional area

So far PAMs have mostly ignored pennate muscles, and up until recently haven’t occurred in geometries other than linear cylinders.

Another issue for PAMs with that whilst they are not difficult to make individually they have not been built in forms that are amenable to mass production. Hence making manufacture of a humanoid a very labour intensive process.

 

Another issue that has held back humanoid robotics is a misunderstanding of how muscles work together. Everyone is taught in school about antagonistic muscle groups, but what if I told you that arguably there are no antagonistic groups and there are common cases where such ‘opposing’ muscles contract together. An example is the Lombards Paradox, where the hamstrings and quadriceps contract at the same time whenever you go from a sitting position to a standing one. This is possible due to the precise geometry of the muscles including the action of bi-articulated muscles (muscles that span more than one joint).

 

If I was to describe the approach taken by evolution in designing skeletal muscle systems I would describe 2 main groups of skeletal muscles. These would be that single joint spanning muscles have evolved to provide precise joint control and the muscles that span multiple joints that provide power.

 

Single joint spanning muscles often lie close to the joint and are quite small in size (eg rotator cuff muscles). They are often numerous and are designed to stabilise joints. The more degrees of freedom and joint can have the more of these muscles to keep them under control. These are actually the muscles that are replicated in many humanoid and industrial robots.

Rotator cuff muscles

Compare the joints of these humanoid robots and actual human joints.

The multiple joint spanning muscles are often more superficial to the single joint spanning ones. This is because they need freedom to slide into new positions as the joints move underneath them. These muscles are often large and can provide a large amount of force. Any robotics system using these many joint spanning muscles is at an experimental stage only.

 

Some other aspects worth mentioning about how muscles group together. Evolution has optimised the positioning of muscle mass around joints, based on where the forces are actually needed. A human engineer would be tempted to provide an equal amount of torque in all directions, even when a) gravity does the job for you and b) there’s only so much torque required in any particular direction.

 

The direction of force generated by the muscle is also affected by geometry. A muscle can apply a torque in one direction around a joint, but when the joint goes past a certain point the torque is now in the other direction. The muscle slips past the centre of rotation and can now provide more force in the direction the limb is moving. This can be seen in several muscles in the shoulder. This is a brilliant design, as it allows the majority of a muscle group to contribute to the force in one direction. This in turn lowers the overall amount of muscle mass required as a single muscle can fulfil more than one role.

 

So I hope this has been eye opening and helped you think of muscles in a new way.

 

What is my next step?

I want to create a design family of PAM that fulfils a number of criteria.

  • It’s not limited to cylindrical geometry.
  • It’s not limited to fusiform geometry and can be designed to create uni and multi pennate, as well as plannar and converging geometries.
  • It’s easy to manufacture.
  • Can manufacture multiple muscles in one go, and can even include many muscles in a single structure.
  • The qualities of the muscle can be predicted fairly reliably.
  • The muscles can be created at a range of scales, from 1cm in size up to tens of cms.
  • Can be anchored to bone like structural elements of the robot.
  • Can contain non actuated regions in order to mimic tendons and fascia.

 

What do I need to do this?

I will need a reasonably anatomically correct life size skeleton. Preferably something mass manufactured and cheap, so that I can make changes to the skeleton without worry that this is the only one I have.

 

I will need to measure how long the muscles will be at rest, full contraction and full extension. This will allow me to define parameters for the muscles.

 

I will need to experiment with PAM designs such as PEANO and flat PAM. Tests will involve predictability, form factor and ease of manufacture. For this I will need the equipment to make the muscles, solenoid valves and electronics. I will also need something like a Universal testing machine in order to characterise the muscles.

 

Future investigation will involve making the additional aspects of pneumatics more suitable, eg incorporating pressure vessels and valves into the ‘hard’ structures of the body. The PAM may plug directly into the valve output coming out of the bone.

 

Why do all this?

Beyond the cool factor humanoids have evolved to work well in a range of environments and a range of motions. Sure a specifically designed robot can do a particular job better than a person can but then it can’t do another 99% of what a human can do.

 

Telepresence would also be a huge use. Having a humanoid form with human movement and dexterity will allow a human to inhabit another environment with much more ease. A humanoid robot could dive down much further than a human can and be unencumbered by oxygen tanks and other life preservation equipment. The same could be used in space, rather than perform an EVA. A humanoid robot geologist on the surface of mars could be controlled by someone orbiting above or on one of the martian moons. Pneumatics or hydraulics would require relatively few changes to make a robot work in these environments. Mostly tweaking materials properties based on temperature changes.

 

This work would also be applicable to elements such as prosthetics. Heavier elements in the pneumatic system could be moved to a pouch or back pack, leaving a lightweight but strong prosthetic.

 

Pneumatics can also be run on various power sources such as compressed CO2, or even small internal combustion engines. These have comparable or better energy densities to modern batteries.

 

Whilst this has been focused on humanoid robotics, there is no reason why it couldn’t be applied to a range of animals or fantasy creatures. This would be a boon to animatronics as a source of non-jerky lifelike movement, with greater complexity than can be achieved using servos and wires.

 

I hope that this fleshes out a little on the steps I want to take in the coming months. There are a lot more details than are mentioned in this post. I’ve not mentioned other structural components like fascia, or how the plan to make the muscles involves sacrificial 3D printable molds. Susan from Rigid.ink is very kindly printing some PLA and PVA molds for me, which I hope to receive in the next week and so I’ll begin a systematic process of building these designs.

So here’s hoping that I’ll have a new post and perhaps even video for you in the next couple of weeks.

Concept render of how the muscles may be arranged.

It’s been quite a while since I last posted and you may be mistaken in thinking that I’d given up on everything. This is certainly not the case, although I’ve had to restrict things to a more theoretical level (aka, no money for prototypes), whilst making a living doing freelance 3D design and 3d printing consulting. The good news is that I have a better understanding of both human biology and of the skills I’ll need to make progress.

I will flesh this out in a subsequent and more in depth post (which is mostly written already and so shouldn’t take another 2 years until I post). For now I want to show off some of the freelance work I’ve done over the last few years. These include models that I’ve modelled from scratch, prepped for 3D printing, or renderings that I’ve made. I will use this post as a pivot towards making this site a bit more about the work that I do and that I’m interested in rather than just strictly within the prosthetics work. This should also mean that post updates become much more frequent.

Anyway here is some of my work.

If you would like me to create some work for you then reply to this post or message me directly.

Several pieces here, as well as a large number of other pieces are available on my shop on shapeways.

Various holidays and work commitments finally resolved themselves and Hollie was able to come and try on the coloured hand. She was very happy with the results and it taking it home to try out more.

IMG_2920_2She also told me that she had been getting a lot from the earlier prototype I gave her. The stronger her arm became the more she could use the hand. So I’ve decided to slightly detour my plans and combine that prototype with this design and create the functional hand, hopefully within the next month.

If you know anyone else who is interested in this type of prosthetic then get in contact with me using the contact us form.

I designed a cosmetic hand for Hollie whilst my work on the Anthromod V2.0 hand continues. I based it on the 3D scan I already had and some photographs provided by her father. As time goes on I plan to refine the process and create the model from an actual hand rather than a casting. This would allow me to add the flesh textures instantly and avoid painting the textures in Blender.

IMG_2904b IMG_2909b

Hollie will be trying out the hand on Friday, so I will post an update then. I am also looking for anyone else interested in this type of cosmetic prosthesis. If you are, or know someone who is you can contact me via the contact us form. The ideal candidates will be those with a Transradial amputation just below the wrist, who have a complete other hand. Alternatively if they have a shortened forearm and small palm (like Hollie) I’ll take a look at it. If you don’t have a complete hand I may also be able to create a hand based on another’s hand, with the scale and skin tone matched.

Eventually I aim to offer this as a paid service, and I will begin a pre-order system soon. Either here or via a crowdfunding platform like Indiegogo. Of course the great advantage of 3D printing is that once the modelling service is paid for the costs of a second hand are much lower. This compares very favourably with labour intensive methods such as silicone cosmetic prosthetics where the second hand costs the same as the first.

Here is a photo of the hand and socket post assembly and plus silicone processing. Loom bands optional.

Hollies hand

Hi everyone.

I'm happy to announce that I have launched my own 3D Hubs page. If you're in the UK I can print parts for you on my Lulzbot AO101 printer. If you're near Manchester you can even come pick them up once they're ready.

3D hubs page 2

User zrileys on thingiverse went and printed out the draft of the Anthromod V2.0 hand. It's not functional but it does look cool.

Regarding the state of the design. I find myself having to go back to the drawing board quite a lot with this design, in order to iron out issues with the constraints. For example a phalange bone would take 15 minutes to design if all I was concerned about was how that particular design looked and functioned. Creating it with a series of parameters and constraints in order to give it the flexibility I want, and also naming them logically and linking them togther takes a several hours at least, including testing.

Then there's the issue of making it easy for someone (aka hopeful future buyers) to set it up with their own settings. Deciding which parameters are needed, without overloading potential clients is a big issue. There's still the thumb to design as well.

There are also some ideas I'm eager to implement but would need the design printed in SLS Nylon. These would use the elastic aspect of the SLS nylon as the return spring. Unfortunately this wouldn't behave the same if it was printed in ABS or PLA.

My biggest issue is getting the time and energy to work on the project after I've finished with the freelancing and the other random stuff I have to deal with everyday.

 

Additionally I've also set up a print shop on 3D hubs. I've spent the last couple of weeks printing out some representative pieces that I aim to upload photos of today.