Image credit – Shuguang Li / Wyss Institute at Harvard University

As the popular saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, which for the most part can also be applied to all sorts of things in life, even robotics where the parts that tend to bend or move the most can sometimes be its weakest point. This is why robotics that are flexible, while useful, aren’t typically seen as strong as its more rigid counterparts.


However researchers at MIT CSAIL and Harvard have created origami-like robotic “muscles” (via Engadget) that are not only flexible and soft, but also have the requisite strength where it is capable of lifting 1,000 times its own weight, thanks to the use of water or air pressure where one 2.6 gram of “muscle” is capable of lifting a 3 kilogram object.

This is achieved through the use of various metals, such as a metal coil or a sheet of plastic that has been folded in a certain pattern. It is then surrounded by air or fluid (such as water) and sealed inside a bag that acts as the muscle’s “skin”. A vacuum is then applied to the inside of the bag which initiates the muscle’s movement, and creates tension that drives the motion.

According to Daniela Rus, Ph.D., one of the senior authors of the research paper, “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.”

Filed in Robots. Read more about Science.

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