You'd think that a robot arm made from air bags would sacrifice strength for being lightweight, but while Otherlabs' prototype weighs in at just two pounds, it's still strong enough to lift a human being.
Instead of actuators, servos, pistons, or even a metal framework, the arm is composed of a series of fabric pockets that expand and contract when filled with air from a compressor. So when these pockets are filled or deflated in specific sequences, the arm can be moved in a wide variety of motions. And even with the air pressure at just 50 to 60 psi, it can still lift several hundred pounds and can easily best a human at arm wrestling. So it's reassuring to know that should the inflatable automatons rise up, they can be easily defeated with pointy objects.
Since the arm is made from fabric and relatively low cost pneumatic parts like a pump and valves, it's extremely cost effective while still being very capable. And because it can be completely deflated, it's easy to roll up and transport, making it a seemingly perfect tool for space travel where storage is limited. On the flip-side it's not as precise as a traditional robot arm, and the lack of sensors can make it difficult for an automated system to know exactly how its joints are positioned. But with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade just a few days away, I'm still excited at the prospect of one day seeing those giant balloons walking themselves down 7th ave. [Otherlab via Hizook]