Robots Are Becoming Alarmingly Strong

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

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?

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

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