Safer Robots from Actuators Inspired by Muscle

New actuators mimic the movement made by muscle by contracting instead of expanding.

Co-bots have plenty of potential in helping to fill gaps in the workforce and perform heavy lifting, working side-by-side with employees. But there have always been concerns over the safety of the robots and humans in close proximity.

Recently, progress is being made though. A team of researchers led by George Whitesides, PhD, a professor at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, has created an actuator that “generates movements similar to those of skeletal muscles using vacuum power to automate soft, rubber beams.” The VAMPs (vacuum-actuated muscle-inspired pneumatic structures) are soft actuators with an internal honeycomb-like structure that contracts, much like a human bicep.

The team is not only excited about implications for manufacturing environments, but also it is hopeful about a variety of service applications, including assisting the elderly and people with disabilities where a standard robot may be safe.

Donald Ingber, MD, PhD, Founding Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering said, "These self-healing, bioinspired actuators bring us another step closer to being able to build entirely soft-bodied robots, which may help to bridge the gap between humans and robots and open entirely new application areas in medicine and beyond." Seems like I’m now one step closer to having my own Baymax!


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