Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have created inexpensive, artificial muscles that enable robots to lift 1,000 times their weight. The project was financed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Scientists describe the soft-robotic breakthrough as a ‘fluid-driven origami inspired artificial muscle’.

Historically, robots have been made out of hard materials such as carbon-fiber or various types of metal.

In recent times, there has been a push into ‘soft robotics’, which is described as constructing robots from highly compliant materials, similar to those found in living organisms.

The artificial muscles, known as actuators, are constructed with plastic sheets, and the cost per muscle is somewhere around $1.00 said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal. Their origami inspired zig-zag composition allows the muscle to contract and expand using water pressure or vacuum-powered air.

Co-author Rob Wood, professor of engineering and applied sciences at Harvard University said“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.”

This is the beginning inning for Skynet 2.0. 

According to the report, “muscles that can contract down to 10 percent of their original size, lift a delicate flower off the ground, and twist into a coil, all simply by sucking the air out of them.”

In a way, it’s almost like muscles found in human-beings, but not so fast.. 

The artificial muscles “can generate about six times more force per unit area than mammalian skeletal muscle can, and are also incredibly lightweight,” it added.

Roboticist Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and one of the report’s senior authors said, “what we want are soft, safe, compliant robots that have strength, that have the properties that are now achievable with hard-bodied systems.”

Another co-author Daniel Vogt, research engineer at the Wyss Institute, the vacuum-based muscles added, “the 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.”

Perhaps, Vogt is talking about wearable robots such as the exoskeleton, that corporations and governments are all rushing to test. Just last week, we reported on the United States Army testing Lockheed Martin’s Fortis Knee Stress Release Device (K-SRD) – an AI controlled exoskeleton designed to turn U.S. soldiers into super-machines.

The WYSS Institute said, the muscles can be used in numerous practical applications at any scale, “such as miniature surgical devices, wearable robotic exoskeletons, transformable architecture, deep-sea manipulators for research or construction, and large deployable structures for space exploration”.

The report added, a .09 ounce artificial muscle can lift an object weighing 6.6 pounds “which is the equivalent of a mallard duck lifting a car.”