Jun 20, 2019 | Updated: 09:31 AM EDT

CMU Creates Plush Toys that Can Hug, Twist, and Bend

May 09, 2019 08:25 AM EDT

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robotic plush toy
(Photo : Morphing Matter Lab)
Robotic plush toy hugs person's finger as it is poked. (Screenshot is taken from video "Digital Fabrication of Soft Actuated Objects by Machine Knitting (Teaser Version)" )

Carnegie Mellon University's Morphing Matter Lab and the Dev Lab in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute have come up with plush toys that are made using industrial knitting machines. What makes these soft plush toys even more interesting is that these are actually soft robots. The machines used for the project are the kinds used to create scarves at a large volume. The CMU laboratories configured the machines to come up with their desired shape and to embed the tendons into the output already. The last step in creating the adorable robot was adding stuffing and motors.

Lea Albaugh, the Ph.D. student that led the research effort stated that soft robotics is a growing field. She explained further that the idea is to build robots from materials that are safe for people to have in close proximity. This makes it very difficult to end up hurting someone. The researcher added that the commercial knitting machines make the actuated soft component cheap to produce.

Previous work in the CMU that centers on automation of commercial knitting were the foundation of Albaugh's research. The said previous work eliminates the need to painstakingly program the machine for each garment.

As the team was successful in embedding tendons during the construction of the soft robots, the researchers have identified an efficient way to precisely mass-produce robots. Albaugh is working on the research together with her co-researchers, HCII faculty members, Scott Hudson, and Lining Yao.

Various robot movements and motions are made possible as the tendons can be embedded vertically, horizontally, and even diagonally in the knitted form. Among the materials that can be used for creating tendon, elements are nylon, silk yarn, and polyester wrapped quilting thread. Movements include twists, S-shaped bends, and asymmetric bends.

In addition to actuating the knitted items, these could also be installed with sensing capabilities, making more precise movements as to where the plush toy could bend to. This can be done by attaching sensors to each tendon.

Albaugh added that since there are so many soft objects in the life of a person, the technology they have developed could make this soft objects interactive. The Ph.D. student further explained that a garment could be part of a personal information system, such as s a user on their sweaters that could tap the shoulder of their users to get their attention. She also cited other examples such as chair fabric that has haptic interface and backpacks that can be opened by themselves.

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