Term of Award

Fall 2021

Degree Name

Master of Science in Applied Engineering (M.S.A.E.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Manufacturing Engineering

Committee Chair

Lianjun Wu

Committee Member 1

Valdamir Gurau

Committee Member 2

Yue Zhang


Earthworm robots have proven their viability in the fields of medicine, reconnaissance, search and rescue, and infrastructure inspection. These robots are traditionally typically hard-shelled and must be tethered to whatever drives their locomotion. For this reason, truly autonomous capabilities are not yet feasible. The goal of this thesis is to introduce a robot that not only sets the groundwork for autonomous locomotion, but also is safe for human-robot interaction. This was done by ensuring that the actuation principle utilized by the robot is safe around humans and can work in an untethered design. Artificial muscle actuation allowed for these prerequisites to be met. These artificial muscles are made of fishing line and are twisted, wrapped in conductive heating wire, and then coiled around a mandrel rod. When electrical current passes through the heating wire, the artificial muscles expand or contract, depending on how they were created. After the muscles were manufactured, experiments were done to test their functionality. Data was collected via a series of experiments to investigate the effect of various processing parameters on the performance, such as the diameter of the mandrel coiling rod, the applied dead weight, the applied current, cyclic tests, and pulse tests. After acquiring data from the artificial muscles, a prototype was designed that would incorporate the expansion and contraction artificial muscles. This prototype featured two variable friction end caps on either side that were driven via expansion muscles, and a central actuation chamber driven via an antagonistic spring and contraction artificial muscle. The prototype proved its locomotion capabilities while remaining safe for human-robot interaction. Data was collected on the prototype in two experiments – one to observe the effect of varying induced currents on axial deformation and velocity, and one to observe the effect of varying deadweights on the same metrics. The prototype was not untethered, but future research in the implementation of an on-board power source and microcontroller could prove highly feasible with this design.

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