• Gabriella Garcia

Soft Robotics week 4: Casting Collab!

I got to fulfill two fantasies this week in soft robotics: first, a visit to Materials ConneXion, which has been a dream of mine since discovering them while writing about sustainable fashion design, and second, playing with silicone casting for the first time! Many of my project daydreams ends up in the land of silicone, and it's exciting to have the process demystified finally.

Number one lesson of the week: resources

While the assignment was a (pleasant) challenge in and of itself, the real lesson of the week was that the allocation of resources stretched thin by a large student body can make technical assignments especially difficult. With the sake of conserving time and resources in mind, Becca, Rachel, Madison, and I formed a homework coalition, but even that wasn't efficient enough.. when we gathered, all three of the prepared mold cores were currently in use, and we couldn't print another at that time as all 3D printers were also in use (finals time probably doesn't help). In addition, the provided PVC pipe seemed to have disappeared, also probably accidentally sucked into the land of staging for final projects. A trip to the hardware store to procure more was unsuccessful.

With that in mind I strongly suggest (and personally definitely intend) pairing for the next assignment as equipment and resources are bound to be in even higher demand this week.

Casting collab!

Still, my group had a successful first attempt at our assignment and lots of fun in the process! We ended up working on one mold between the three of us as that's all the PVC we could find. We round-robined the instructions and made sure that all parties did a little bit of everything. We had some trouble aiming the silicone into the mold with some spilling on the outside, and were afraid that it caused the inner core mold to push up while degassing in the vacuum.

But it cured without a hitch and our pneumatic actuator performed perfectly! Here's a video of the final result in action:

Materials Paradise

Materials ConneXion is an exclusive NYC secret that I have been trying to manifest for years... too find out it shares the building with the Museum of the Dog made my long-anticipated first visit all the more whimsical! Working with fabrics and generally being sensitive to textures has made me insatiably curious about materials of all kind, and I was not disappointed by the library. It was amazing to be able to touch everything and study their uses.

I had quite a few favorites, but two specifically caught my eye when considering soft robotics:

First was this Stone Touch Crinkle, a "multi-layer material" made of polyester and nylon with a cushioned middle of the coated exterior. The heat-treatment processing is specifically for aesthetic results, and thusly it has a very futuristic fashion character to it. It's both soft (cushioned and slick) but thick enough that I can imagine would hold more architectural structuring quite well and would make for some pretty alien-punk silhouettes. Properties include high sound absorption and impact resistance, I wonder how they measure the latter... it's apparently manufactured in Italy by a creative fabrics design house established in 1948 called Fratelli Morelli, who I'm planning to contact for a sample.

The second fabric is this cool retro-reflective fabric called G.B. Mesh. Three layers are laminated together, with the middle layer the reflective glass beads that flash at 500 cd/lux when light hits it, and a top mesh that can be customized. The material is fairly stiff but still acts like a fabric that can be easily cut and sewn; the manufacturer's website confirmed my assumption that this material is often used for reflective portions of sneakers and jackets, with the customizable mesh property attracting artistic fashion design. The manufacturer is based in South Korea and have a clientele full of top tier sports brands including Adidas, Nike, and Puma. I'm mainly struck at how transparent the company is... they have the company structure as well as all patents laid out on the website, and seem generally proud of their work and the company at large. It's thoroughly charming and makes me want to work with them.

The two materials are definitely from the same futuristic aesthetic, and would look very cohesive if worked together. I'm interested in how light reflection could be used as a switch/trigger/sensor of some kind, and wonder how the light-absorbing properties of the stone touch crinkle could act as an element in that process (by maybe blocking out all but specified light sources to be reflected? By acting as a "switch" by opening/closing a light source? I'm not sure..). My mind naturally wanders toward fashion applications with night activities and sousveillance as cause, though still uncertain what exactly that exploration would look like. I'm excited to get my hands on the materials if I can though to find out!