The modeling of soft structures, actuators, and sensors is challenging, primarily due to the high nonlinearities involved in such soft robotic systems. Finite element modeling (FEM) is an effective technique to represent soft and deformable robotic systems containing geometric nonlinearities due to large mechanical deformations, material nonlinearities due to the inherent nonlinear behavior of the materials (i.e., stress-strain behavior) involved in such systems, and contact nonlinearities due to the surfaces that come into contact upon deformation. Prior to the fabrication of such soft robotic systems, FEM can be used to predict their behavior efficiently and accurately under various inputs and optimize their performance and topology to meet certain design and performance requirements. In this article, we present the implementation of FEM in the design process of directly three-dimensional (3D) printed pneumatic soft actuators and sensors to accurately predict their behavior and optimize their performance and topology. We present numerical and experimental results to show that this approach is very effective to rapidly and efficiently design the soft actuators and sensors to meet certain design requirements and to save time, modeling, design, and fabrication resources.
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