MEE Professor completes world-first ultra-high voltage test of soft robot
Chris Edwards | 01/20/2020

Soft robotics is a fast-growing industry for a wide range of industries that feature significant benefits by way of natural flexibility, adaptability, low cost, and passive safety. Numerous areas are adopting soft robots, including medicine, microelectronics, computer science and other industries.

Recently, Professor Wang Zheng from the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering (MEE) at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) led his research group to develop the world’s first soft robot that could withstand the 500kV AC Extra-High-Voltage (EHV) and ± 1000kV DC Ultra-High-Voltage (UHV) operating conditions.


Soft robots are fluid-actuated, fabricated by flexible materials, and remotely controlled. The optimization of these robots ensures their lightweight and economical design by isolating their moving parts from the controls. It is highly advantageous for extreme environments, such as high-voltage electrical transmission lines.

Globally, the maintenance of high-voltage and ultra-high-voltage electrical transmission lines is a critical task that is currently conducted using human labor. It is a highly dangerous task, and the huge inventory of transmission lines in China alone means that the development of such robots is providing enormous potential for safer, simpler operations and higher operating voltages.

Existing robots that operate on live transmission lines use motor-driven robot arms and grippers, increasing complexity and maintenance costs. Soft robots are significantly cheaper to operate and maintain, reducing costs for operators.

SUSTech MEE Professor Wang Zheng’s team used cutting-edge technology to meet the needs of the power industry by developing an advanced soft robot that could endure significantly higher voltages than any other robot. The team used commonly available flexible and rigid polymeric materials, combined with low-pressure hydraulics that offer significant motion through multiple joints (3DOF). The hardware and software in the robot allowed for voltage endurance of ± 1000kV UHV while maintaining operational communication.

Professor Wang Zheng’s team collaborated with ZUGO Electric Testing Co., Ltd., to undertake the testing of the new soft robot on January 11 and 13 of 2020. They have validated that this robot could withstand EHV AC voltages of up to 500kV, and UHV DC voltages of ± 1000kV. It is a world’s first for any robot that has ever succeeded at this level. It further promotes the use of robots, particularly for soft robots, in the electrical power transmission industry.

The work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, SUSTech Institute of Robotics, and SUSTech Education Foundation.

2020, 01-20
By Chris Edwards

From the Series


Proofread ByXia Yingying

Photo ByDepartment of Mechanical and Energy Engineering


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