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Robotics AI Science Technology

Scientists Have Built Robot Muscles That Can Lift 1,000 Times Their Own Weight (qz.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) announced today (Nov. 27) that they've created robotic "muscles" that can lift up to 1,000 times their own weight. The simple objects are constructed out of metal or plastic "skeletons" that are covered in either a liquid or air, and then sealed in plastic or fabric "skins." The muscle pulls taught when a vacuum is created inside the skin, and goes slack when the vacuum is released. By folding the skeletons in different ways, the vacuum can pull the muscle in different directions. "Vacuum-based muscles have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don't expand when they're operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body," Daniel Vogt, a research engineer at the Wyss Institute, said in a release.

These new structures are also surprisingly cheap. As they don't require anything other than water or air to move them, the researchers told Harvard that a single muscle can be built in about 10 minutes, for less than $1. (Obviously, there'd still be a cost for the vacuum or whatever is being used to change the pressure of the muscles.)

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Scientists Have Built Robot Muscles That Can Lift 1,000 Times Their Own Weight

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  • ... or in 30 years after Boston Dynamics patents expire and we have the reasonably sized fusion reactors that we've been promised for like 50 years...
    • Patents expire after 20 years.

      Nobody promised you a fusion reactor. That was the moron talking head on the TV not understanding the story.

      • Patents expire after 20 years.

        Not only that, the time starts on the filing date, and let assume that there is no extension (e.g. delay issue created by the USPTO side) and they will pay the due (fees) for the whole time of the patent if it is granted.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't want my army of killer robots going limp the moment you decide to escape into space.

  • The catch is they only weigh 2 nanograms. Silly "scientists".
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      These'll go great with the adamantium skeleton I'm look at on ebay. Unfortunately, installation service isn't included.

    • The catch is they only weigh 2 nanograms. Silly "scientists".

      Indeed. "Lifting capacity as a multiple of weight" is a meaningless metric. It is trivial to achieve just by using a tiny displacement.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "This 10 cm-long linear actuator was fabricated within 10 min, with materials costing less than $1. This actuator weighs 2.6 g, and it can lift a 3 kg object within 0.2 s using a 80 kPa vacuum. " (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/11/21/1713450114.full - the underlying research paper.)

  • 'Scientists' rediscover flexible pneumatics.
    For about the thousandth time.
    I wonder when they will discover they can use a lever to increase for force applied!
    Perhaps also something round to allow the device to smoothly move over the ground!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Do you know the difference between "rediscover" and "apply in a new way"? A lot of discoveries and inventions are based on very old and established ideas with incremental tweaks and improvements, especially as other fields, like materials and manufacturing, advance in parallel.

  • Only a dollar, not counting all of the other expenses required to exploit the technique in anything resembling a reliable, portable, battery-feasible practical application.

    My SUV runs on lug nuts and body panel rivets that only cost pennies each to manufacture!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm sure these vacuum muscles are great. The paper is actually very nice and exceptionally detailed. I really could not ask for more, technically. My problem is with the "built for $1 in 10 minutes" part of this being included in a scientific paper (although buried in Table S3 in the supplement).

    I am a scientist. I know how this works. "Scientific" conclusions require support through data, modeling, or citation in the text. Then there are the statements presented as fact, but are actually put there to ge

  • (Obviously, there'd still be a cost for the vacuum or whatever is being used to change the pressure of the muscles.)

    But if we use up all our vacuum on robot muscles, when future generations look for vacuum they'll find nothing! That would really suck!

  • Vacuum-based muscles have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don't expand when they're operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body,

    OK, if you want to read a story you'll never be able to forget, read about the little girl that was eviscerated by the suction of a pool filter and the action of her somewhat dense mommy. Or, on second thought, don't read that. It's too nasty.

    There are risks to high suction next to the human body. Especially sick and wea

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday November 28, 2017 @01:49AM (#55634963)

    . "Vacuum-based muscles have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don't expand when they're operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body,"

    The disadvantage of basing it on vacuum pressure is that their force is limited to ambient pressure. For sea level that's 14.7 PSI, or about 10 Newtons per square cm of muscle cross sectional area. The typical human muscle can pull with a force of about 35 N/cm^2 [sciencelearn.org.nz]. So these artificial muscles are considerably weaker than biological muscles. Sorry all you Mechwarrior fans.

    It might turn out to be useful in underwater applications. Pressure underwater increases by 1 atmosphere approximately every 10 meters of depth, so it wouldn't take much depth to greatly exceed human musclepower. The problem might actually be being able to pull a vacuum under those pressures.

    Incidentally, air pressure is also what they use to make zero-g weightlifting exercise equipment [youtube.com].

    • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

      You just pointed out what is awful about science reporting. The summary is written to make you think the muscles are strong, when you seem to be pointing out that the muscles are weak.

      can lift up to 1,000 times their own weight.

      That *sounds* strong! But without something to compare it to that number is meaningless. It also sounds like it's the wrong unit of measure anyway.

    • by Maven0 ( 1673268 )

      The problem I see is the muscle doesn't do shit without a vacuum system and they are not including that weight in their calculations.

    • It said in the summary it's origami based. So, in fact, we can have Mechwarriors powered by these muscles.

      They will be made out of paper.

  • by ChrisMaple ( 607946 ) on Tuesday November 28, 2017 @01:52AM (#55634973)

    The muscle pulls taught

    Taut.

    • Yes!
      However, it's actually misspelled in TFA, so as a direct quote it is actually correct. A little [sic] note from the editor wouldn't have hurt, though.
  • Just in case this isn't clear to everyone and even by forgetting about different aspects highly constraining what/how can be lifted, note that an equivalent resisting force is required to help during the process and keep it up. If you rely on air, you would need to carry a mass of air equivalent to what you would be lifting. That's why the typical robo-exoskeleton shown in movies allowing a random person to lift 1 ton is plainly impossible: that person would have to provide most of the required force reacti
  • They don't have to be chemically-driven, but at the very least a muscle should be a self-contained unit. If you have to have a central pump (vacuum, hydraulic, etc) it's not a muscle, it's a piston. The difference is that a muscle is something you can stick in place and just need a power source to drive, whereas a piston requires that thing plus the power source plus some kind of transformer (in this case electric to pnumatic) to operate and is in turn much heavier, noisier, etc.
  • Well done MIT, you've invented the piston.
  • Just asking,

    Does that x1000 include the weight of the vaccum?

  • This tech would be useful in a high-radiation environment.

  • But there are better fluids, and these will see use in larger, serious applications.

    Then the fun begins.

  • Do you want Skynet ants? Because that's how you get Skynet ants.

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