I can’t sit here and promise you that the robot apocalypse isn’t coming, that the machines won’t eventually rise up and overthrow their makers. But what I can promise you is that not all of them will be able to punch you out. Because robots are going soft. Like, literally soft, controlled with liquid or air instead of traditional motors. It’s called soft robotics, naturally, and it’s hot at the moment.
Problem, though: Without the rigidity and powerful motors of your typical robot, soft robots have been weak. That is, until now. Researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Harvard’s Wyss Institute have developed a new kind of soft robotic muscle inspired by origami and awesomeness. It’s essentially a bag filled with air, inside of which is an origami structure that functions as a skeleton. By pumping air in and out, the researchers can get the muscle to lift 1,000 times its own weight. By comparison, a more traditional robot arm like the super popular UR10, which weighs in at 64 pounds, can lift a third of its weight.