Inflatable Robots!!!

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As you know if you read this blog, there are all kinds of fun and interesting inflatables out there. In fact, two weeks ago I wrote about artists who use inflatables as an integral part of their work. I’ve also mentioned stories about rental inflatables that are air-filled versions of real working Irish pubs – now those are definitely an inventive use of the inflatable technology available. As cool as these uses of inflatables are, there is a new implementation for inflatables that has me really excited – inflatable robots!

CNET reports that inflatable robots are being developed and used in San Francisco as we speak. This is good for many types of industries, which could use them in a number of different ways. According to the story:

“Ant-Roach [is] a pneumatic robot that weighs about 70 pounds and can carry loads that are much heavier. It was designed by San Francisco-based Otherlab ‘to demonstrate the carrying capacity and high strength-to-weight ratios possible with inflatable structures.’ The beast has textile actuators that contract when inflated with compressed air. A microcontroller runs the muscle network, and is controlled wirelessly via laptop.”

Using inflatables in robotics is not a new premise, especially when you consider the use of pneumatic pressure as a force for movement in various machinery is very common. However, these robots have major limitations when it comes to mobility, which the article says is “zero to limited.” The good news? These robots are still valuable in ability:

“Their soft exterior makes them ideal for use around humans, and they have high ratios of strength to weight. [One] prototype is apparently able to lift a person with 50-60 psi even though it weighs only 2 pounds. If the arm could move and grasp object with precision, repetition, and speed, industrial applications alongside human workers may be possible at reduced cost.”

If what is being said about these robots is true, I would say that we will be seeing them at construction sites and factories in the near future.