Aug. 23, 2012 at 2:14 PM ET
Robots with inflatable yet fully controllable parts? These new blow-up bots under development at iRobot are a breath of fresh air for fuel economy and mobility.
Funded by the military’s futuristic research agency known by the acronym DARPA, the Boston-based robotics company recently showed a PackBot modified with an inflatable arm to the advanced technology association IEEE’s Automation blog.
“The AIRarm is lightweight, inexpensive and stows compactly,” the blog noted. “It’s inflated and deflated with an on-board pump, and uses actuators and strings to move its joints without embedded motors.”
Check out the video below to see it in action.
Inflatable parts have the advantage of major weight reductions. The regular PackBot arm weighs between 15 and 20 pounds. The AIRarm, as the inflatable appendage is called, weighs a tenth of that.
Less weight means the robot can roam longer on a single battery charge. Even though lightweight, the arm can still manipulate objects and lift at least five pounds of dead weight.
The Inflatable arm also adds flexibility to the arm. For example, a partially inflated arm could squeeze through a hole in the wall and then fully inflate to perform a task on the other side.
DARPA recently awarded iRobot a $650,000 contract to keep working on the inflatable technology under its Maximum Mobility and Manipulation program.