Columbia Researchers Create Artificial Humanoid Muscles for Robots

Tuesday, 19 September 2017 - 8:52PM
Technology
Robotics
Tuesday, 19 September 2017 - 8:52PM
Columbia Researchers Create Artificial Humanoid Muscles for Robots
Aslan Miriyev / Columbia Engineering
As impressive as modern robot designs might be, humanity's attempts to build artificial shells for our computers still pale in comparison to the countless years of natural selection which formed living beings. Robots are good at doing single jobs really well, but none of our creations have the same range flexibility and adaptability as organic creatures.

There have been plenty of attempts to design functional robot bodies, some of which have seen a fair amount of success, but ultimately, there's nothing wrong with copying tried and tested organic designs that have steadily improved over millions and millions of years. As such, after lengthy research, robotics engineers at Columbia University announced that they've found a way to produce synthetic "muscles" for robots that function almost exactly like a real human body:

 

The team, led by roboticist Hob Lipson, have managed to create squishy silicon gel-based muscles that are capable of dramatically changing in shape, size, and volume in order to accommodate a range of movements that's far more advanced than any previous attempt at giving robots muscles. These new synthetic muscles are lightweight but very tough; being able to withstand three times more pressure than an actual human muscle.

What's more, they're exceptionally cheap and easy to produce, as they can be 3D printed in a matter of hours. According to Lipson:

Opening quote
"We've been making great strides toward making robot minds, but robot bodies are still primitive. This is a big piece of the puzzle and, like biology, the new actuator can be shaped and reshaped a thousand ways."
Closing quote


This could potentially be a big breakthrough for the field of robotics. Research into the best way to make robots squishier and more flexible is being undertaken by several groups of scientists around the world, but this new approach seems to have the biggest chance of revolutionizing the way robots are built, and the tasks they can be assigned. Lipson's team has found a way to make robots more portable, adaptable, and more capable of complex movements under intense pressure.

It's no surprise that the future of robotics will come from mimicking organic life - our bodies are pretty spectacular feats of natural engineering, after all. With this new invention, we may have to rethink the form that robots will take in future.

We've all been trained to expect robots to be cold, inflexible, mechanical contraptions that are metallic at their core, no matter how humanoid their outer skin may appear. It turns out, this might be wrong - future robots will have flesh that's just as soft and squishy as our own.

Turns out the future of robots is less Terminator, and more Blade Runner after all.
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