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Soft Robots That Mimic Human Muscles Could Revolutionize Physical Therapy

Oct 14, 2016 04:30 AM EDT
Soft Robots (IMAGE)
This picture shows soft robots made out of elastomer.
(Photo : Marc Delachaux/ EPFL 2016 for Press Release Use via EurekAlert)

Scientists from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have successfully created soft robots from elastomer that could copy the behavior of human muscles. This new technology could help patient rehabilitati as well as handling of fragile objects.

According to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists from EPFL's Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (RRL) have built soft robots powered by muscle-like actuators. Made of elastomers such as silicon and rubber, these robots moves by controlling the air pressure in the robot's body which has a "soft balloon" design.

Read: Stingray Robot Powered by Rat Muscles the Answer to Better Artificial Hearts

The muscle actuators are shaped like a cucumber, could be bent in two directions and extended six times their length.

"We conducted numerous simulations and developed a model for predicting how the actuators deform as a function of their shape, thickness and the materials they're made of," said lead author Gunjan Agarwal via Science Daily.

"Using soft actuators, we can come up with robots of various shapes that can move around in diverse environments. They are made of inexpensive materials, and so they could easily be produced on a large scale. This will open new doors in the field of robotics," said Jamie Paik, diirector of the RRL.

Read: Harvard Scientists Build Fart-Powered Octobot for Soft Robotics

Matthew Robertson, the researcher in charge of the project, said that they are currently working with physcial therapists to create a soft actuator belt to help treat stroke victims. The said belt is made of pink rubber and transparent fishing line and is currently hookeD up to a system of external pumps.

"We are working with physical therapists from the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) who are treating stroke victims. The belt is designed to support the patient's torso and restore some of the person's motor sensitivity," Robertson said.

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