MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has teamed up with Harvard’s Wyss Institute to create a super strong, affordable artificial muscle that could be used to create soft robots with “superpowers,” including the ability to lift up to 1000 times their weight.
The new soft robotic artificial muscles are inspired by origami, and can be constructed in as little as 10 minutes with materials generally available that can be acquired for less than $1. The technology uses ‘skeletons’ or basic structural scaffolding which are surrounded by a sealed bag that can then change its motion by creating a vacuum within the bag itself.
The internal skeleton component can be made from a variety of materials, and how it’s constructed (and how it folds) will determine the motion, meaning they can be “programmed” simply and manually by changing how they bend when the skin membrane contracts around the internal structure.
Their relative simplicity, as well as flexibility when it comes to the materials you can use to create them, means that these artificial muscles can range in size from a few millimeters to as much as a full meter in length, with relatively few changes in overall performance. The larger the muscle, the more it can lift, and researchers in the project envision eventually building an elephant robot complete with a trunk that works just like a real elephant’s.
This solution elegantly addresses some of the existing challenges of soft robotic, in terms of the flexibility, strength and limitations of other methods of creating simulated muscles for use in soft robotic applications.
Potential applications for this technology in practice could include medical assistance devices, industrial robotics, space exploration, and various wearable exoskeletons, according to the researchers.