Robot muscles depending on biceps can lift weights like humans – and could benefit disabled and elderly
New Robot Muscles Imitate Human Biceps

The ‘muscles’ are made from lots of air-filled pockets which offer soft mass

The innovation generates movements similar to those of skeletal muscles, and they’re even shock absorbing like real muscles. Robots have taken a step closer to resembling humans with the development of muscles resembling the bicep.

The actuators or VAMPs (vacuum-actuated muscle-inspired pneumatic structures) use vacuum power to automate soft, rubber beams.

It’s hoped that robots built with VAMPs could be used to assist the disabled or elderly, to serve food or deliver goods.

Previous robot methods have used electricity or combustion, which is less safe than vacuum for technology to use.

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VAMPs can lift weights up to 500g and when its air pockets are punctured, it heals and works like normal.

The actuator, made with soft rubber or ‘elastomeric’ beams, is filled with small, hollow chambers of air like a honeycomb.

By applying vacuum, the chambers collapse and the entire actuator contracts, generating movement.

The internal honeycomb structure can be custom tailored to enable linear, twisting, bending, or combinatorial motions.


Developed by a team led by George Whitesides, PhD at the Wyss Institute in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the work was reported June 1 in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies .

“Functionally, our actuator models the human bicep muscle,” said Mr Whitesides, a Director of Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology at Harvard University.

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“There are other soft actuators that have been developed, but this one is most similar to muscle in terms of response time and efficiency.”

The team envisions that robots built with VAMPs could also perform other tasks related to the service industry.

Soft robots could make industrial production lines safer, faster, and quality control easier to manage by enabling human operators to work in the same space.


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