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Consumer Lifestyle
Published: 19 Dec 2017

Artificial Muscles Empower Soft Robots

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Origami-inspired artificial muscles could revolutionise the future of soft robotics

Researchers at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have published a study on origami-inspired artificial muscles that could prove revolutionary for the future of soft robotics.

Published in November 2017, the study from Harvard's Wyss Institute and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) presents new artificial muscles that allow soft robots to lift up to 1,000 times their own weight. Each muscle is made of a sealed plastic bag with air or liquid inside it, along with an inner "skeleton" made from a flexible material folded into an origami pattern. With the use of vacuum technology, the soft structure collapses and contracts, just like a natural muscle.

This type of muscle is not only safe, because of the vacuum feature, but also very cheap, as it can be constructed in 10 minutes using materials that cost as little as $1. It doesn't need an electronic control system, as movement is dictated by the way the inner origami structure is folded – which essentially programs the muscle's function. This allows the muscles to be compact and lightweight, making them ideal for use as medical devices or wearable robotics.

In the past, soft robotics have been praised for their flexibility and safety, as well as the fact that they can mimic the movement of living organisms. However, they were never known for their strength, as they couldn't lift objects as heavy as their inflexible counterparts.

For more on soft robotics and man/machine partnerships, read Digital Disruption: Wired Live 2017 and Blueprint for a Better Workplace.

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