Otherlab is working on a new breed of inflatable robots that cast aside the heavy and expensive metal structures that most robots are based on, bringing down their cost and material use while increasing their capabilities. So far they have completed two working prototypes – the 15-foot Ant-Roach and the inflatable arm. Their dextrous inflatable arm has the potential to reduce the material needs and weight of prosthesis technology, and the Ant Roach is so light that it can even walk on water! Check out the video of the arm performing amazing tasks after the jump.
The Ant-Roach is made of inflatable textile “muscles” that contract when they are blown up. There is a central nerve system that provides compressed air to the limbs and makes the robot move. The robot is so lightweight and small that when deflated it can fit into a duffel bag and carried by a single person. When inflated the robot is so strong it can carry up to 1,000 pounds. Because the robot’s mechanics are on its central core and not threaded throughout the object — and because it is mostly air — the thing can even walk on water.
The robotic arm is the world’s first inflatable prosthesis and weighs in at 2 pounds but when inflated.Controlled remotely, it can lift several hundred pounds. Like the Ant-Roach, a series of “muscles” made from inflatable air pockets contract or expand when inflated to create motion and strength in the robotic arm.
Inflatable robots have huge implications for the future of materials use. If we can make things that were once made from metals out of fabric we can cut mining and industrialized processing of metals, both emission-laden processes and make stronger robots from fewer resources.