Image: Keplinger Research Group

The aim of soft robotics is to create machines that move more like humans—robots that can, say, sensitively grasp delicate objects without crushing them. Engineers have recently created an artificial muscle that can mimic the way that the human body’s muscles contract and expand.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder used stretchy materials and liquids that shift shape in response to electricity to build the artificial muscle, which could enable robotics that grip and handle fragile things, like the raspberry in the video shown above. The combination of the liquid and the electrical cue gives the artificial muscle a fast, easily controlled response, very different from the movement provided by a motor or hydraulics.

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In one device described in a Science paper on Friday, a doughnut-shaped shell made of a rubbery material that was then filled with a viscous liquid, and hooked up to opposing electrodes. When the voltage was applied, the liquid shifted, changing the shape of the shell. Using insulating liquids, the devices even have the ability to self-heal, the scientists said.

Image: Keplinger Research Group

Depending device design, different robots were able to also flex a mechanical arm and lift a gallon of water. The end goal is to one day create robots that can work closely and more safely with humans, as well as prosthetic limbs capable of moving much the way the human limbs naturally do.

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