Inflatable Robots: The Cheap, Lightweight Robotic Alternative?
I have to say, I am really excited about the potential of inflatable robots. For one, making robots from fabric can have huge implications on the future of materials usage. Also, when Cyberdyne Systems finally does go all Skynet on mankind, we might actually stand a fighting chance against these walking bouncy houses.
The 15-foot-long Ant-Roach (pictured above) really demonstrates the carrying capacity and high strength-to-weight ratios of these inflatable structures. It weighs in just under 70 lbs but it can carry up to 1000 lbs, making the payload of a few people no problem at all. The initial concept was more elephant-like but the final product came out like this anteater-cockroach hybrid, hence its name.
This huggable robot was developed by Otherlab's Pneubotics program; a collaborative effort between the San-Francisco-based research firm, Meka Robotics, Stanford University, and DARPA.
So-called Pneubotics use lightweight, textile-based actuators along with hydraulics to contract upon inflation. The specific shape of these actuators effects the resulting motion. This behavior is showcased best by the program's robot arm. It has actuator muscles at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist but also in all four fingers. And with a total weight of only 2 lbs, it can still bench a more than me.
Because they are constructed from fabric and basic pneumatic parts like an air supply, valves and tubing, these robots can be made for very, very cheap. Of course, a body made mostly from air poses its own problems. One sharp needle could bring a whole robot down.
But these inflatable systems can have applications outside of just puffy Terminators. In the area of renewable energy, these technologies could provide low cost, high degree of freedom mechanisms for both solar power systems or for wind energy.
I, for one, welcome our new inflatable overlords.