Shape Changing Linkage

Shape Changing Mechanisms Solve Design Problems

A design problem that engineers frequently encounter is a curve that changes shape. For instance, take a spoiler on a high performance car. To get optimal performance, the downward force should be increased as the car takes a turn. An ideal way to achieve this is to allow the spoiler to change shape. This is no simple design task because an engineer wants the spoiler to remain a spoiler and do its job at every intermediary stage as it changes shape. To use another example, you don’t ever want a wing to stop being a wing. But you might want to enable a wing to change its shape during flight.

Professor Andrew Murray, Associate Professor Dave Myszka, and Dave Perkins (all of University of Dayton), along with Associate Professor Jim Schmiedeler (of Notre Dame) and the students at University of Dayton’s Design of Innovative Machines Lab (DIMLab) are working on new technology to tackle these problems. Their work focuses on the theory and design of “morphing or adaptive structures” that can essentially change shape and still perform their function “through a wider range of operating conditions.” Design applications of this research include wings, extrusion dies, deformable mirrors for adaptive optics systems, morphing architectural structures, active aperture antennas, and (to come back down to Earth for a moment), pasta makers.

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Shape-Changing Wing with Internal Structure

Die design is an interesting manufacturing application of this research. A die is used in a manufacturing process where melted plastic or other such material, like pasta dough, is forced through a die in order to “form a long part of uniform cross-section” like tubes, pipes, molding — and fusilli. Professor Murray and his colleagues and students have applied their research to designing a die that can change shape as material is fed through it, enabling manufacturers to create new innovative products at low cost compared to other currently available technology like molding.

For more information on this research, visit DIMLab.  See video demonstrations of this technology here.  For reference material, see Persinger, J., Shmeideler, J., Murray, A., 2009, “Synthesis of Planar Rigid-Body Mechanisms Approximating Shape Changes Defined by Closed Curves.”  The spoiler and compliant wing featured in the videos in this article were engineered by Seb Krut.

Demining Training Aids

3D Printed Demining Training Aids

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Training people to diffuse landmines and other live ordnance left behind in conflict areas has always been a difficult thing. Successfully training Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technicians requires hands-on education that gives the technician a true understanding of how a triggering mechanism inside live ordnance actually functions. For this reason, this kind of education requires effective training aids. The traditional training aids–either replicas or inert ordnance–are fragile, difficult to make, too intricate to be understood fully, hard to obtain in the case of inert ordnance, and impossible to ship internationally. Allen Tan from Golden West Humanitarian Foundation in collaboration with Asst. Professor Gim Song Soh and his students at Singapore University of Technology and Design have come up with an innovative solution to the problems this type of education presents.

They have created training aids that are engineered for a better understanding of how ordnance trigger mechanisms work. The plastic training aids display exact replicas of trigger mechanisms in cross-section, which gives the future ordnance disposal technician a better view of the kinds of mechanisms they will find in a real mine field. The AOTM devices are also resilient enough for classroom teaching.

How are these devices delivered to the various regions around the world where they are needed? They’re not. They’re 3-D printed. This innovation not only defeats the impossibility of shipping this kind of item all over the world, it also centralizes the construction of the devices in the region where they will be used. Countries benefit from this development of “sustainable indigenous assets capable of dealing with these issues as they are discovered” rather than putting the training in the hands of a third party (quote from Advanced Ordnance Training Materials by Allen Tan). It is a more sustainable way to run this kind of program.

Better training materials and affordable ways of providing them will lead directly to more effective—and safer–ordnance disposal programs around the world. The work that Professor Soh and his students at Singapore University of Technology and Design are doing with advanced ordnance teaching materials combines design innovation, active learning practice, and a forward-thinking embrace of 3D printing.

For more information please visit, Professor Gim Song Soh’s homepage, and an article written by Allen Tan.

This animation prepared by Prof. Soh and his students illustrates the components of the SOTS-M2A1 trigger mechanism.

Wearable Robotics Put Spring in Your Step

Wearable electronics or “wearables” are seen as the next great wave of technology and commerce. Much of the popular talk about these kinds of products revolves around things like fitness trackers, augmented reality devices, and other machines you can wear that interact with, track, or add on to your experience with the world around you. Thomas Sugar, a professor at Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus and a wearable robotics expert works on a different kind of wearable.

Along with his colleagues and students, he has developed a new generation of powered prosthetic devices that can be used for rehabilitation and as prosthetics for amputees. He works on spring-based robots that enhance human mobility based on lightweight energy storing springs that allow for a more responsive and therefore more functional human gait. His devices make position control calculations 1,000 times per second to make the prosthetics as human as possible.

Sugar starts from a “human being first” research perspective since his devices must be wearable and efficient. In his devices, spring power and motor power combine to create a powered system that gives prosthetic ankles the “push off” and “toe pick up” they need in order to mimic the function of human ankles.

His idea of a robotic tendon is much more efficient than a direct drive system, which would require more electricity and larger, more powerful motors.   In fact, his innovation uses half the required energy of a direct drive system powered prosthetic ankle.

In a different device attached to the ankle Sugar uses able-bodied movement to harvest energy from walking. His company SpringActive developed a boot attachment with the military in mind that turns walking into back up power for batteries with negligible metabolic cost.

The real world and commercial applications for this kind of research are far reaching.   For more on Thomas Sugar’s and his colleagues’ work, visit and