Soft robotics is one of the most popular, heavily invested in areas of robotics, and for good reason. The methods and technology being used to rapidly advance soft robotics have resulted in robotic muscles that are cheaper, more lightweight, and now stronger than their traditional robotic counterparts.
The general idea of soft robotics is that such devices could mimic the motions and functions of living organisms. The primary drawback which has hampered the proliferation of usable soft robotic devices is their lack of strength. Their malleability, affordability, and flexibility have all been novel and useful features of soft robotic devices, but a lack of lifting power has, until now, been a major issue. MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Harvard’s Wyss Institute appear to have solved that problem, creating soft robotic muscles that are stronger per weight than even metallic robotic devices.
These new soft, origami-inspired robotic muscles can lift up to 1,000 times their own weight. While they are lightweight in nature, it is an impressive feat, considering that widely-used metallic robotic devices such as the UR10 can lift approximately one-third its weight, despite comprising only a 64-pound density.
The new soft robotic super-muscles’ structures and functions will be geometrically designed to cater to their function. Each will be contained within a bag that serves as a sort of outer shell for the internal origami skeleton. The function of the skeleton is dependent upon the injection and draining of air in and out of the outer bag, but it is the skeleton itself which provides the strength which differentiates these latest soft robotic muscles from their predecessors. Researchers see the greatest possibility of these soft robotics muscles in their potential for combinational employment toward a common goal. One hypothetical example cited by Wired is the combination of heat-resistant silicone with water-soluble materials to create a disposable aquatic robot.
As this video shows, the possibilities of these super-strong soft robotic muscles seem virtually endless, and are nothing short of a game-changer for soft robotics and robotics in general: