Robots Are Becoming Alarmingly Strong

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

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?

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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