A variant of soft robot muscles built like origami by scientists from MIT CSAIL and Harvard’s Wyss Institute proved to be much stronger than their human counterparts, being capable of lifting 1,000 times their own weight.
Each muscle consists of a sealed bag filled with air or fluid, containing a folding origami structure that functions as the skeleton. When the pressure inside the bag is reduced using an electric pump, the whole structure collapses and contracts, just like the muscles in your arm or leg. Those new muscles are well-suited too for picking up objects with unusual shapes.
Robotic muscle based on origami
Soft robots, though, can simply reach out and grab, trusting that the deformable shape of their gripper will mold around the target. However, the new robot muscles are not as easily controlled or as reprogrammable as traditional robots. The direction they move in is entirely dictated by their inner structure and once created, can’t be changed. But algorithms can be used to find origami patterns that fold in near-infinite ways. The muscles can also be built out of a range of cheap, lightweight materials, meaning they can be quickly fabricated and easily repaired. “We’ve shown a combination of four muscles that forms an arm with a gripper that can pick up a tire,” Professor Daniela Rus, CSAIL director, said describing the invention.