SCIENCE CHINA Information Sciences, Volume 60, Issue 5: 050201(2017) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11432-016-9033-0

An overview of the configuration and manipulation of soft robotics for on-orbit servicing

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  • ReceivedOct 8, 2016
  • AcceptedNov 22, 2016
  • PublishedApr 6, 2017


Soft robots refer to robots that are softer and more flexible when compared with conventional rigid-bodied robots. Soft robots are adapted to unstructured environments due to their flexibility, deformability and energy-absorbing properties. Thus, they have tremendous application prospects in on-orbit servicing (OOS). This study discusses the configuration and manipulation of soft robotics. Usually, learning from living beings is used to develop the configurations of most soft robots. In this study, typical soft robots are introduced based on what they mimic. The discussion of manipulation is divided into two parts, namely actuation and control. The study also involves describing and comparing several types of actuations. Studies on the control of soft robots are also reviewed. In this study, potential application of soft robotics for on-orbit servicing is analyzed. A hybrid configuration and manipulation of space soft robots for future research are proposed based on the current development of soft robotics, and some challenges are discussed.


This work was jointly supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 61673262, 60775022, 61603249), and Key Project of Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Commission (Grant No. 16JC1401100).

  • Figure 1

    (Color online) Some examples of soft robotic arms. (a) NASA's string robot [16](@Copyright 2006 IEEE); protectłinebreak (b) an OctArm V actuated by pneumatic extensor actuators [17](@Copyright 2008 IEEE); (c) an octopus-bioinspired robotic arm [18](@Copyright 2011 Elsevier); (d) a precurved-tube continuum robot [19](@Copyright 2009 IEEE).

  • Figure 2

    (Color online) The structure of a muscular hydrostat (@Copyright 2011 Elsevier). (L) Longitudinal muscles; (T) transverse muscles; (O) oblique muscles; (N) nerve cord [18].

  • Figure 3

    An intrinsically actuated robotic arm. The bent cylinders represent actuators. They are mounted to a plate at each end.

  • Figure 4

    (Color online) Some examples of soft grippers. (a) A soft gripper actuated by PAMs with six fingers [54](@Copyright 2011 John Wiley and Sons); (b) DEMES for grasping objects [55](@Copyright 2007 AIP Publishing LLC); (c) a rollable multisegment gripper using DEMES [56](@Copyright 2015 IEEE); (d) versatile soft grippers with intrinsic electroadhesion [57](@Copyright 2016 John Wiley and Sons).

  • Figure 5

    (Color online) Other typical soft robots. (a) An earthworm-inspired robot with a mesh structure and SMAs [66](@Copyright 2010 IEEE); (b) multigait soft robot actuated by pneumatic nets [72](@Copyright 2011 PNAS); (c) a robot with four soft pneumatic legs [73](@Copyright 2012 IEEE).

  • Figure 6

    (Color online) The structure of the soft robot for OOS. (a) The example picture of an inchworm. (b) The muscular structure of the tube body of an inchworm. (c) The example picture of a snake. (d) The bone and oblique muscles of a snake. (e) A segment of the soft robotic arm. Two plates are connected by three longitudinal actuators, three oblique actuators and one backbone. (f) CAD design of the robot. The structure consists of a soft robotic arm and a soft gripper. The soft arm is responsible to move the soft gripper to the desired location and the gripper is in charge of catching objects.

  • Figure 7

    The block diagram of the potential manipulation system of a space soft robot for the OOS.

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