Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have developed a variety of origami-inspired robotic muscles capable of lifting a thousand times their own weight. But the cool part comes from their dexterity, as these artificial muscles can be delicate as well. Combining these two extremes, the muscles have an almost unlimited potential in all areas of society, from creating exoskeletons to delivering medicine.
The researchers published their findings in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They took note that robots had to be flexible for tasks other than lifting heavy weights. As a result, scientists have been trying to make robots that could be more flexible and soft, which in the past meant padding the outside of a robot.
“We’ve been interested in soft robots for a long time because they’re safe, because they are compliant and because they can deal with uncertainty,” said roboticist Daniela Rus, director of Computer Scient and Artificial Intelligence at MIT and one of the study’s senior authors. “They’re very robust and easy to control, relatively speaking.”
Rus acknowledged that one would have to sacrifice strength for flexibility or vice versa when picking the robot’s material. However, by using origami techniques, they have by-passed complex designs all the while keeping cost to make low.
Researchers from the two universities used origami techniques to create muscle-like designs that would allow flexibility and power. A 2.6g robotic muscle built by the scientists was able to lift a 6.6-pound object.
The muscles were specifically designed to curl, twist and bend into specific shapes when they were put under pressure. Researchers then sealed the robotic muscles in a bag of polymer that acts as the skin of the robotic limb, which was filled with air or another fluid. When a vacuum sucked the liquid out, the origami limb contracted into the shape rendered by its folding patterns.
Researchers discovered that the robotic limbs could exert six times as much force per unit of area as a mammalian muscle. Rus states that they can link multiple origami patterns for different levels of force.
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