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These ‘soft robots’ demonstrate how lifelike robotic movement will become

Researchers are creating wearable devices that mimic human muscles.

Marc Delachaux / 2016 EPFL

Swiss roboticists are working on a new type of robotic exoskeleton. But it’s not the kind of hulking metal with heavy joinery that may initially come to mind.

Researchers at the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne instead made robots that are soft, like muscle tissue. Their goal is to make biomedical devices that stretch and bend to move more naturally.

The soft robots are made of elastic materials, like silicone and rubber that are molded into small tubes and pumped with air. The tubes balloon and bend in two directions like worms as the air pressure changes. The movement is remarkably lifelike.

The researchers are collaborating with physical therapists to build a back-support belt with clusters of the tiny actuators that help restore motor sensitivity for stroke victims.

They’ve created a model to predict how the small, air-filled actuators deform depending on their size, shape and material. And since the robots aren’t rigid, the researchers say the technology should be able to tolerate pressure without getting damaged, Science Daily reported.

Right now, the air pump is too big to fit directly on the belt, but they hope to eventually make it small enough to wear.

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