Soft robots and particularly inflatable robots are of interest because they are lightweight, compact, robust to impact, and can interact with humans and their environment relatively safely compared to rigid and heavy traditional robots. Improved safety is due to their low mass that results in low-energy collisions and their compliant, soft construction. Inflatable robots (which are a type of soft robot) are also robust to impact and have a high torque to weight ratio. As a result inflatable robots may be used for many applications such as space exploration, search and rescue, and human-robot interaction. One of the potential problems with inflatable or pneumatically actuated robots is air leaking from the structural or actuation chambers. In this thesis methods are demonstrated to detect leaks in the structural and actuation chambers of inflatable and pneumatically actuated robots. It is then demonstrated that leaks can be slowed by lowering a target pressure which affects joint stiffness to prolong the life of the system. To demonstrate the effects of lowering the target pressure it is first shown that there exists a trade-off between the commanded target pressures at steady-state and the steady-state error at the robot end effector under normal operation. It is then shown that lowering the target pressure (which is related to stiffness) can extend the operational life of the system when compressed air is a limited resource. For actuator leaks a lower target pressure for the leaking joint is used to demonstrate the trade-off between slowing the leak rate and system performance. For structural leaks a novel control algorithm is demonstrated to lower target pressure as much as possible to slow the leak while maintaining a user specified level of accuracy. The method developed for structural leaks extends the operational life of the robot. Long-term error during operation is decreased by as much as 50% of the steady-state error at the end effector when compared to performance during a leak without the control algorithm. For actuation leaks in a joint with a high-torque load the possibility of a 30% increase in operation time while only increasing steady-state error by 2 cm on average is demonstrated. For a joint with a low-torque load it is shown that up to a 300% increase in operation time with less than 1 cm increased steady-state error is possible. The work presented in this thesis demonstrates that varying stiffness may be used to extend the operational life of a robot when a leak has occurred. The work discussed here could be used to extend the available operation time of pneumatic robots. The methods and principles presented here could also be adapted for use on other types of robots to preserve limited system resources (e.g., electrical power) and extend their operation time.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Mechanical Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





failure mitigation, leak detection, mpc, soft robotics, inflatable robotics