Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have developed artificial muscles that are able to lift a thousand times their own weight.
The artificial muscles, inspired by the Japanese art of paper folding more commonly known as origami, are cheap and easy to make, with the creation of soft robots seen as one of their applications.
Artificial Muscles Inspired By Origami
In a study titled "Fluid-driven origami-inspired artificial muscles," the team of researchers described a new type of artificial muscle that is made up of a sealed bag that is filled with fluid or air and a folding origami structure as its skeleton.
The artificial muscle is made to contract and collapse like real muscles by using an electric pump to reduce the pressure inside the sealed bag. The skeleton can be made with various materials, and its construction will determine the motion of the artificial muscles.
Even more amazing is the fact that the artificial muscles can be created in as fast as 10 minutes, using materials that can be bought for less than $1.
The simplicity and flexibility mean that the artificial muscles can be created in sizes ranging from millimeters to meters, which would come in handy for one application that is already being eyed for the origami technology.
Origami To Give Rise To Soft Robots
Robots, both in real life and in fiction, have been known to be made of metal and similar hard materials to give them strength. However, the need for robots with soft structures has surfaced to allow them to access hard-to-reach areas and for safe interaction with humans.
Soft robots, however, have failed to provide strength compared to their hard counterparts. This problem is what the origami-inspired artificial muscles may solve.
"What we want are soft, safe, compliant robots that have strength, that have the properties that are now achievable with hard-bodied systems," said Daniela Rus, the director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of MIT and a senior author of the study on the new artificial muscles.
Origami has served as the inspiration of several recent scientific breakthroughs. NASA has created an origami-inspired radiator that helps cool down and warm up satellites and was testing a similarly origami-inspired robot scout that could be used to explore Mars. Engineers have also created a new bulletproof shield for police officers that can fold like Japanese paper while retaining durability.
Even ancient art can lead to new developments in the modern age, and it appears that soft robots will be the next breakthrough inspired by origami.