Science

Artificial Origami Muscles Can Lift 1,000 Times Their Weight

Scientists created robotic muscles inspired from origami. Although the muscle looks soft and fragile, it is sufficiently strong enough to lift up to 1,000 times its weight. With that strength, the artificial origami muscles can be used for medicine delivery, creation of exoskeletons, but can also be used for exploring space.

Artificial Origami Muscles
Image Source: PNAS

Scientists are still struggling to create robots that are going to move effortlessly and flexibly. In order to avoid funny looking movements in the vast majority of robots we see today, scientists and engineers have to make a compromise on their strength. However, a group of scientists from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology managed to make muscles that are both flexible and strong.

The scientists made a muscle which weighs 0.09 ounces, and despite its mass, it managed to lift an object which weighed 6.6 pounds. Scientists published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Artificial muscle-like actuators are one of the most important grand challenges in all of the engineering,” Robert J. Wood, Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard, said in a statement. “Now that we have created actuators with properties similar to natural muscle, we can imagine building almost any robot for almost any task.”

According to the scientists, a new origami-inspired artificial muscle managed to lift objects up to 1,000 times their weight. Moreover, they were extremely affordable, as in, making one muscle cost less than $1. The folded inner skeleton of each muscle is located inside a plastic or textile bag, which is filled with water or air. Scientists use a vacuum to make the bag tight around the origami skeleton. As a result of a change of pressure, the skeleton can be moved according to its shape, managing to grip, twist, or lift.

“In addition to their muscle-like properties, these soft actuators are highly scalable. We have built them at sizes ranging from a few millimeters up to a meter, and their performance holds up across the board,” Wood said.

The senior author, Daniela Rus, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, said that the “superpower muscles” provide “limitless” potential. The shape and the way the paper moves is determined by the skeleton inside. The team indicated that the technology they used to create these robots can also be used to contribute to space exploration, and creating wearable exoskeletons, but also to deliver medicines.

Rus is looking for inspiration for future artificial origami muscles in animals.

“The very next thing I would like to build with these muscles is an elephant robot with a trunk that can manipulate the world in ways that are as flexible and powerful as you see in real elephants,” she said.

What do you think about the artificial origami muscles? Are they going to help scientists in their future discovery endeavors?