iRobot Developing Inflatable Robot Arms, Inflatable Robots

Robots full of air are smaller, lighter, and cheaper than their rigid counterparts

2 min read
iRobot Developing Inflatable Robot Arms, Inflatable Robots

While we're not allowed to share all the cool stuff that we saw on our visit to iRobot back in July, DARPA has just approved for public release a video of this awesome project: a fully controllable robot arm that can be inflated and deflated like a balloon.

The AIRarm is lightweight, inexpensive, and stows compactly. It's inflated and deflated with an on-board pump, and uses actuators and strings to move its joints without embedded motors. While regular PackBot 3-link arms are between 15 and 20 pounds, the AIRarm system only weighs about a tenth of that, a fact that would be much appreciated by the soldiers that have to carry these robots around. Despite its light weight, AIRarm is no slouch, and can lift up to five pounds, or possibly more depending on how much its inflated. By varying the level of inflation, it's also possible to vary the level of compliance of the arm: this makes the arm a little bit flexible when you need it to be, which in turn makes it safer and more durable. Oh, and since it's mostly made of fabric and string, it's wicked cheap, at least compared to a conventional arm.

As it turns out, you can do more with inflatable structures and actuators than just make arms. Check out this little guy:

Yes, it's completely inflatable, yes, it can walk, and no, we can't really tell you anything more about it, although it's worth mentioning that it kinda reminds us of this crazy thing.

iRobot was just awarded a $650,000 contract from DARPA to continue working on inflatable arms as part of the M3 program, so we'll definitely be seeing more of this stuff in the near future.

[ iRobot ]

[ DARPA ]

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
Blue

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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