Origami-inspired artificial muscles outperform human ones


Our robots manage some pretty impressive feats—including back flips—through the whirring of motors and hydraulic pumps. But all of life manages to perform far more impressive feats using muscles. Muscles allow incredibly fine control of movement, along with violent bursts of exertion. As a result, there has been a steady stream of attempts to craft artificial muscles.

But a team of Harvard and MIT researchers use part of their new paper to catalog all the ways that these efforts fall a bit short: energy efficiencies below two percent, extremely high voltage requirements, or extremely slow contractions. So they decided to focus on a different approach: pressure-driven artificial muscles. They devised a system that mixes this pressure with an origami-inspired skeleton to (by some measures) outperform muscles.

Pump it up

The basic design of their muscles is ingeniously simple. They muscles are centered on a rigid yet foldable "skeleton," which could be made of plastic or metal. This ensures that as the muscle expands and contracts, it folds (or unfolds) in a specific pattern that directs the force. The skeleton is surrounded by a sealed, flexible material, typically some sort of polymer sheet—think putting the skeleton in a form-fitting plastic bag. This can be filled using either a liquid or gas.

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