Robots Are Becoming Alarmingly Strong

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have developed a variety of origami-inspired artificial muscles that can lift up to a thousand times their own weight — and yet be dexterous enough to grip and raise a delicate flower. The devices, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer a new way to give soft robots super-strength, which could be used everywhere from inside our bodies to outer space.

Cool! But before you get too alarmed at the prospect of robots with the strength of Superman, check out the PNAS paper itself:

This 10 cm-long linear actuator was fabricated within 10 min, with materials costing less than $1. This actuator weighs 2.6 g, and it can lift a 3 kg object within 0.2 s using a -80 kPa vacuum.

Sure enough, that’s a thousand times its weight. But it’s still only about six pounds. Robots with grippers made of FOAM (fluid-driven origami-inspired artificial muscles) won’t be destroying human civilization any time soon.

Joking aside, this really is intriguing. Robotics engineering seems to be advancing about as fast as artificial intelligence—and of course, the two are synergistic. Muscles are controlled by intelligence, and they get better with both exercise, which improves their raw capability, and practice, which improves their response to intelligent control. The same will be true of artificial muscles. Engineering will improve their raw capability and better AI will provide more precise control. In 20 or 30 years our grandchildren will be appalled at the idea that we ever let clumsy, unreliable human beings perform surgery on us. What kind of madman would submit to that?

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up to $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate