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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)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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