Accessibility is the primary concern in all kinds of disaster situations. Disaster sites are hard to reach and manage. Thus, the idea of using robots sounds very reasonable. A robot used in such a case needs to be extremely robust yet light and flexible.
Robots are considered to be powerful steel giants, but you know they are not walking out of a Transformers sequel. Mobile robots are usually weak with a poor strength to weight ratio.
As part of the Impulsing Paradigm Change through Disruptive Technologies Program (ImPACT) Tough Robotics challenge, researchers have developed an artificial muscle using rubber tubing that is incredibly powerful yet lightweight, having strong resistance to impact and vibration. Researchers expect the development will allow creating the most compact, lightest, most powerful, and energy-efficient robots ever built.
The Challenge is designed to create robust robots that can be used for rescuing people and ensuring safety after disasters like Earthquakes which are quite frequent in Japan. The hydraulic muscles seem to pave the way for creating robots that are capable of precision movements despite being lightweight.
According to the team, the only way to improve disaster robots is by producing tough hydraulic actuators, the components that move and power robotic limbs. Most actuators available are not precise enough and are very susceptible to shocks and vibrations, making them highly inefficient for use at disaster sites.
The artificial muscle created jointly by the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Bridgestone Tires is based on human muscle. To replace the human muscle contraction mechanism, the muscle uses a rubber tube which is bound by woven high-tensile fibers that contracts in length when pressurized with a hydraulic fluid.
The muscle can move very smoothly and precisely as the rubber and fabric combination gives it a human artery like structure that responds immediately to applied pressure. The muscle also has a very high strength to weight ratio.
Researchers aim to continue developing robots that use this artificial muscle to make a contribution to the spread of advanced robotic services for safety and security. They also hope to achieve higher performance and spread the use of the artificial muscle as a consumer use robot actuator.