A team from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a way in which they say will give "soft" robots a set of "superpowers".
Daniela Rus, Ph.D., the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and one of the senior authors of the paper, said: "We were very surprised by how strong the actuators (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."
Whilst Rob Wood, Ph.D., corresponding author of the paper and Founding Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute, added: "Artificial muscle-like actuators are one of the most important grand challenges in all of engineering. Now that we have created actuators with properties similar to natural muscle, we can imagine building almost any robot for almost any task."
The system is easily programmable and the user can decide exactly how they want the "skeleton" of the robot to fold, for example.
First author Shuguang Li, Ph.D., a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wyss Institute and MIT CSAIL, shared: "One of the key aspects of these muscles is that they're programmable, in the sense that designing how the skeleton folds defines how the whole structure moves. You essentially get that motion for free, without the need for a control system."
Rus explained: "When creating robots, one always has to ask, 'Where is the intelligence - is it in the body, or in the brain?' Incorporating intelligence into the body (via specific folding patterns, in the case of our actuators) has the potential to simplify the algorithms needed to direct the robot to achieve its goal. All these actuators have the same simple on/off switch, which their bodies then translate into a broad range of motions."