Harvard, MIT give robots ‘superpowers’

Origami-inspired artificial muscles are capable of lifting up to 1 000 times their own weight, simply by applying air or water pressure. Image credit: Shuguang Li / Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created origami-inspired artificial muscles that allow soft robots to lift objects up to 1 000 times their own weight using only air or water pressure.

The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“We were very surprised by how strong the actuators [aka, ‘muscles’] were. We expected they’d have a higher maximum functional weight than ordinary soft robots, but we didn’t expect a thousand-fold increase. It’s like giving these robots superpowers,” says Daniela Rus, PhD, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and one of the senior authors of the paper.

“Artificial muscle-like actuators are one of the most important grand challenges in all of engineering,” adds Rob Wood, PhD, corresponding author of the paper and Founding Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute. “Now that we have created actuators with properties similar to natural muscle, we can imagine building almost any robot for almost any task.”

Origami-inspired artificial muscles

This video shows how origami-inspired artificial muscles can be customised into nearly any shape and lift up to 1 000 times their own weight. Video credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University



01 Dec 2017

By Robyn Grimsley
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