These new artificial muscles not only prove to be strong, but are also easy to make and cost effective. Though it looks like a snake made in origami, it’s actually a new soft robot (Photo from MIT CSAIL)


Because soft robotics are flexible, it allows these machines to move in ways similar to living organisms. The only problem is the more flexibility these bots have, the more their strength is reduced. This may no longer be an issue thanks to a new discovery from MIT scientists. A team at MIT CSAIL and Harvard have created an origami-like artificial muscles that proves to be stronger than most soft bots. This new one can lift an object as much as 1000 times their own weight only using water or air pressure.


The bot is made up of a plastic inner skeleton that is surrounded by air or water inside a sealed bag – think of this as the skin. To initiate movement, a vacuum is applied to the inside of the bag, which creates tension that pushes the motion. This bot doesn’t need a power source of human input to direct the muscle – it’s all guided by the makeup of its skeleton.


Researchers have conducted several successful experiments testing just how much the artificial muscle can lift. In one test, they created muscles that lifted a flower off the ground, twist into a coil, and contract down to ten percent of their original size. Another muscle they created uses a water-soluble polymer, which allows it to be used in a natural setting with little impact on the environment. The team believes a bot like this can be used for deep sea research or even for minimally invasive surgery and transformable architecture.


Not only are these bots strong, they’re easy to produce and cost effective. The team can build these soft bots in different sizes ranging from a few millimeters up to a meter. One artificial muscle takes under ten minutes to build for less than a dollar. Researchers can create as many of these bots for testing and not worry spending a lot of money in the process. But so far, things are looking good. Even the team didn’t believe the robots would be as effective as they are. CSAIL director Daniela Rus reveals that while they expected the bots to have a “higher maximum functional weight” than normal soft bots, they didn’t expect “a thousand-fold increase.”


This new development could completely change the way we think about soft bots. With this new improved strength, they have more functionality and will find more uses. We’ll just have to wait and see how it’s applied. The team’s research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America and can be read here.



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