These soft origami robot muscles can lift 1,000 times their own body weight
We typically think of robots as big hulking hunks of metal, and any effort to make them look synthetically human up until now have been flabby at best and creepy at worst.
These soft synthetic creations are also terrible at carrying out many of the tasks robots should be best at, including lifting anything heavier than an apple.
Now, a team of scientists, have not only developed soft, artificial muscles, their bizarre creations can lift 1,000 times their own body weight.
In the paper, published in the journal PNAS, the scientists describe how they’ve been able to build soft robots with a bit of a metaphorical backbone. The robot’s muscles are built out of an origami-like skeleton structure filled with either air or fluid. An electrical pump then releases pressure in their synthetic muscles making the structure collapse and giving them their Hulk-like strength.
“Vacuum-based muscles have a lower risk of rupture, failure and damage, and they don’t expand when they’re operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body,” Daniel Vogt, a research engineer at the Wyss Institute said.
The origami structures can be built in around ten minutes and don’t need anything but water and air making them fairly cheap.
However, there is a payoff. Like with metal robots, that lose flexibility but instead gain strength, soft robots gain power but are entirely dictated by their origami structure. So while these robots are able to grasp delicate objects in their grips without crushing them, they’re limited by their pre-configured design. Industrial robots need to be programmed, giving them a better ability to move in different ways.
The news comes as the technology branch of Ocado, known for delivering groceries in the UK, has announced it has successfully developed automated robots that can pick up delicate objects without causing damage. Using a suction cup on the end of the robot’s hand, the system is able to pick up groceries without destroying them. The robot systems pick up the groceries and then transfer them into the delivery crates, ready for the customer.
Last year, Japanese scientists began developing soft robots that use fibres to contract and expand, rather than motors. Unlike MIT and Harvard’s development though, the robots had muscles but zero strength. They weren’t even able to walk. These robots will be useful for industrial lines, especially for those which require a more delicate touch.