A new tiny robot can lift a thousand times its own weight with artificial muscles

Dubbed GRACE, the robot hand can even bend fingers and make realistic human movements.
Sade Agard
GRACE
New class of artificial muscles creates strong robot hand capable of lifting 8kg.Science Robotics
  • Scientists have developed a new type of artificial muscle that can lift 1000 times its own weight
  • 3D actuators were combined to form a real-life robot hand that could lift 8kg
  • The high-strength properties could be applied to create higher capabilities in other body parts and a range of devices.

A team of researchers from the Italian Institute of Technology has just developed a new class of high-strength artificial muscles that can stretch and contract like a human muscle in a way that has never been done before. According to a recent research paper, the muscles perform with a level of versatility and grace closely matched to life-like movements, and provide a boost in the development of three- dimensional functional devices such as artificial body parts.

1000 times their weight

The artificial muscles are known as actuators- or more specifically- GeometRy-based Actuators that Contract and Elongate (GRACE). Pneumatic in nature, GRACE is driven by the influence of gas, or compressed air, and could lift up to 1000 times their weight. Upon combining 18 of these novel actuators, the researchers were able to create an 8-gram (0.01 pounds) robot hand which was capable of lifting up 8 kilograms (17 pounds).

And that's not all. The new mathematical model behind the design allows for a novel level of flexibility too. The robot hand can bend its fingers and make realistic human movements when pressure is applied to the different actuator muscles. Up to now, resins of this kind were relatively stiff.

A novel pleated design for flexibility

GRACE is made from a 3D printed resin but what's unusual about its design is that it is a pleated one. This means that when the muscles are inflated with gas, energy is then converted into movement, and the stretching and contraction results in high strength and flexibility for the fully three-dimensional devices printed using them.

The term often used to describe machines that mimic biological processes is biomimicry. While developments in this technology stretch to all kinds of nature, why do we really want machines to look like us?

Well, in the context of artificial muscles, GRACE could be significant for rehabilitation and the replacement of body parts after a loss. So then, what's with all the humanoids? Who really knows? The answer could lay in us feeling more comfortable around a heavy-weight giant humanoid simply because the familiarity of it brings about a sense of friendliness.

Whatever the reason, it is clear developments in biomimetics, and their application to real social and environmental situations are never too far away.

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