The artificial muscles that will power robots of the future | Christoph Keplinger

The artificial muscles that will power robots of the future | Christoph Keplinger

In 2015, 25 teams from around the world competed to build robots
for disaster response that could perform a number of tasks, such as using a power tool, working on uneven terrain and driving a car. That all sounds impressive, and it is, but look at the body
of the winning robot, HUBO. Here, HUBO is trying to get out of a car, and keep in mind, the video is sped up three times. (Laughter) HUBO, from team KAIST out of Korea,
is a state-of-the-art robot with impressive capabilities, but this body doesn’t look
all that different from robots we’ve seen a few decades ago. If you look at the other robots
in the competition, their movements also still look,
well, very robotic. Their bodies are complex
mechanical structures using rigid materials such as metal and traditional
rigid electric motors. They certainly weren’t designed to be low-cost, safe near people and adaptable to unpredictable challenges. We’ve made good progress
with the brains of robots, but their bodies are still primitive. This is my daughter Nadia. She’s only five years old and she can get out of the car
way faster than HUBO. (Laughter) She can also swing around
on monkey bars with ease, much better than any current
human-like robot could do. In contrast to HUBO, the human body makes extensive use
of soft and deformable materials such as muscle and skin. We need a new generation of robot bodies that is inspired by the elegance,
efficiency and by the soft materials of the designs found in nature. And indeed, this has become
the key idea of a new field of research called soft robotics. My research group
and collaborators around the world are using soft components
inspired by muscle and skin to build robots with agility and dexterity that comes closer and closer to the astonishing capabilities
of the organisms found in nature. I’ve always been particularly inspired
by biological muscle. Now, that’s not surprising. I’m also Austrian, and I know that I sound
a bit like Arnie, the Terminator. (Laughter) Biological muscle
is a true masterpiece of evolution. It can heal after damage and it’s tightly integrated
with sensory neurons for feedback on motion
and the environment. It can contract fast enough
to power the high-speed wings of a hummingbird; it can grow strong enough
to move an elephant; and it’s adaptable enough
to be used in the extremely versatile arms of an octopus, an animal that can squeeze
its entire body through tiny holes. Actuators are for robots
what muscles are for animals: key components of the body that enable movement
and interaction with the world. So if we could build soft actuators, or artificial muscles, that are as versatile, adaptable and could have the same performance
as the real thing, we could build almost any type of robot for almost any type of use. Not surprisingly,
people have tried for many decades to replicate the astonishing
capabilities of muscle, but it’s been really hard. About 10 years ago, when I did my PhD back in Austria, my colleagues and I rediscovered what is likely one of the very first
publications on artificial muscle, published in 1880. “On the shape and volume changes
of dielectric bodies caused by electricity,” published by German physicist
Wilhelm Röntgen. Most of you know him
as the discoverer of the X-ray. Following his instructions,
we used a pair of needles. We connected it to a high-voltage source, and we placed it near
a transparent piece of rubber that was prestretched
onto a plastic frame. When we switched on the voltage, the rubber deformed, and just like our biceps flexes our arm, the rubber flexed the plastic frame. It looks like magic. The needles don’t even touch the rubber. Now, having two such needles
is not a practical way of operating artificial muscles, but this amazing experiment
got me hooked on the topic. I wanted to create new ways
to build artificial muscles that would work well
for real-world applications. For the next years, I worked
on a number of different technologies that all showed promise, but they all had remaining challenges
that are hard to overcome. In 2015, when I started my own lab at CU Boulder, I wanted to try an entirely new idea. I wanted to combine
the high speed and efficiency of electrically driven actuators with the versatility
of soft, fluidic actuators. Therefore, I thought, maybe I can try using
really old science in a new way. The diagram you see here shows an effect called Maxwell stress. When you take two metal plates and place them in a container
filled with oil, and then switch on a voltage, the Maxwell stress forces the oil
up in between the two plates, and that’s what you see here. So the key idea was, can we use this effect to push around oil contained in soft stretchy structures? And indeed, this worked surprisingly well, quite honestly,
much better than I expected. Together with my
outstanding team of students, we used this idea as a starting point to develop a new technology
called HASEL artificial muscles. HASELs are gentle enough
to pick up a raspberry without damaging it. They can expand and contract
like real muscle. And they can be operated
faster than the real thing. They can also be scaled up
to deliver large forces. Here you see them lifting
a gallon filled with water. They can be used to drive a robotic arm, and they can even
self-sense their position. HASELs can be used
for very precise movement, but they can also deliver
very fluidic, muscle-like movement and bursts of power
to shoot up a ball into the air. When submerged in oil, HASEL artificial muscles
can be made invisible. So how do HASEL artificial muscles work? You might be surprised. They’re based on very inexpensive,
easily available materials. You can even try, and I recommend it, the main principle at home. Take a few Ziploc bags
and fill them with olive oil. Try to push out air bubbles
as much as you can. Now take a glass plate
and place it on one side of the bag. When you press down,
you see the bag contract. Now the amount of contraction
is easy to control. When you take a small weight,
you get a small contraction. With a medium weight,
we get a medium contraction. And with a large weight,
you get a large contraction. Now for HASELs, the only change
is to replace the force of your hand or the weight with an electrical force. HASEL stands for “hydraulically amplified
self-healing electrostatic actuators.” Here you see a geometry
called Peano-HASEL actuators, one of many possible designs. Again, you take a flexible polymer
such as our Ziploc bag, you fill it with an insulating liquid,
such as olive oil, and now, instead of the glass plate, you place an electrical conductor
on one side of the pouch. To create something
that looks more like a muscle fiber, you can connect a few pouches together and attached a weight on one side. Next, we apply voltage. Now, the electric field
starts acting on the liquid. It displaces the liquid, and it forces the muscle to contract. Here you see a completed
Peano-HASEL actuator and how it expands and contracts
when voltage is applied. Viewed from the side, you can really see those pouches
take a more cylindrical shape, such as we saw with the Ziploc bags. We can also place a few
such muscle fibers next to each other to create something that looks
even more like a muscle that also contracts and expands
in cross section. These HASELs here are lifting a weight
that’s about 200 times heavier than their own weight. Here you see one of our newest designs,
called quadrant donut HASELs and how they expand and contract. They can be operated incredibly fast,
reaching superhuman speeds. They are even powerful enough
to jump off the ground. (Laughter) Overall, HASELs show promise
to become the first technology that matches or exceeds the performance
of biological muscle while being compatible
with large-scale manufacturing. This is also a very young technology.
We are just getting started. We have many ideas how to
drastically improve performance, using new materials and new designs
to reach a level of performance beyond biological muscle and also beyond
traditional rigid electric motors. Moving towards more complex designs
of HASEL for bio-inspired robotics, here you see our artificial scorpion that can use its tail to hunt prey, in this case, a rubber balloon. (Laughter) Going back to our initial inspiration, the versatility of octopus arms
and elephant trunks, we are now able to build
soft continuum actuators that come closer and closer
to the capabilities of the real thing. I am most excited
about the practical applications of HASEL artificial muscles. They’ll enable soft robotic devices that can improve the quality of life. Soft robotics will enable a new generation
of more lifelike prosthetics for people who have lost
parts of their bodies. Here you see some HASELs in my lab, early testing,
driving a prosthetic finger. One day, we may even merge
our bodies with robotic parts. I know that sounds very scary at first. But when I think about my grandparents and the way they become
more dependent on others to perform simple everyday tasks
such as using the restroom alone, they often feel like
they’re becoming a burden. With soft robotics, we will be able
to enhance and restore agility and dexterity, and thereby help older people
maintain autonomy for longer parts of their lives. Maybe we can call that
“robotics for antiaging” or even a next stage of human evolution. Unlike their traditional
rigid counterparts, soft life-like robots will safely operate
near people and help us at home. Soft robotics is a very young field.
We’re just getting started. I hope that many young people
from many different backgrounds join us on this exciting journey and help shape the future of robotics by introducing new concepts
inspired by nature. If we do this right, we can improve the quality of life for all of us. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Replies to “The artificial muscles that will power robots of the future | Christoph Keplinger”

  1. When I was an architect student the professor in design said the greatest inventions are often the simplest, the kind of invention that compels one to say, "why didn't I think if that?" Wow this man is a genius! I see it as a form of like when the wheel was invented. Combine soft robotics with artificial intelligence and I ponder over the good and the bad. In fact that competition he mentioned I think was worldwide and conducted by DARPA. This is an ingenious design and so much this man alone has done, a big accomplishment in the history of ideas for humanity.

  2. No we do not need a new generation of robot bodies that is inspired by the elegance and efficiency of nature.. Or one day they will rule over us

  3. Why are people celebrating this…this robots will replace u in ur workplace and probably used for armies and police because they still cant control humans…Why would u need robots??? are we perfect? Instead of building robots we need to work on ourselfs first…we suck as species…

  4. After saying thank you at the end he should have said ' Thank you and Hasta la Vista'

    wasted potential . . . sigh

  5. That was cool. And, my [thumbs-up] changed the value from "3.9K" to "4K"…. which is the first time I've caused the change in an approximated value on YouTube.

  6. The problem with soft muscles is that they don't have the precision of the typical servo+precision gearbox movement setup which is in arc-seconds usually. Plus soft materials will degrade over time and lose even more precision. One could argue that human is very imprecise too, but who wants robots that will do an error from time to time? It'll be interesting to see how economical and precise would a wholy soft-muscle robot be.. maybe people would be more economical and safe to employ than these "soft" robots 😀

  7. Oh sure, suddenly the robots are going to help us at home because they're muscles are soft. Just forget the fact that anything advanced goes straight to the military while everyone else still gets their crappy little floor bot. This time it's different.

  8. So now they just have to miniaturize the fluid sacs and scale up production to approximate biological muscle tissue. I wonder if an array of these cells will have more pulling force than a human's?

  9. Imagine AI robots breed humans for their flexible muscles. Just like we breed chicken for eating

  10. Any information on how much power these use? What's the efficiency like and assuming it's not great, is there scope to improve it?

    EDIT: Yeah, after reading some comments on here, re-watching key parts of the video and googling Maxwell stress, it seems to me the presenter is being pretty disingenuous with both the nature of the effect (which has nothing at all to do with the presence of oil) and the potential uses of the technology. The artificial muscles shown here clearly rely almost entirely on electrostatic attraction between the conductors on either side of the bags and so require high voltages to get any significant force out of them – pretty impractical for stand-alone robots and particularly unsuited to prosthetics. On the plus side, for fixed robots, loads could be held in position without consuming (much) power, as significant current would only flow while the plates were moving relative to one another. And of course great for loudspeakers where this technology has been in use for decades.

  11. this is the future, watch the film "life" (Warning some bits are horrible) and then this will give you a cold shiver as if you made this technology as small as a cell and multiply it by a few million and then add a control system with some AI on top and there is your artificial life form………

  12. They are already using stem cells to grow tissue why not go actual muscle rather than reinventing the wheel?

  13. How much current/voltage does it need? How insulated do they need to be? What level of flexabilty does it need?

    If it is within specs you could 3d print it with a multi-filiment flexable printer. (softest material is a Shore D 70 softness ) (the restiance for conductive filiment is terrible, so it would have to be low wattage) (is air a good enough insulator, if not maybe print in a chamber with air replaced with a less conductive gas?)

    Paper is

  14. I wonder just exactly how much current is needed to drive those hasels? Are they giving off heat? Great video but I want answers, lol!

  15. Yeeah, not very good for military applications :/ you'd have to cover them with kevlar or other though materials, that can bend, so i'm not sure if it would be cheaper than using the standart hydraulic systems.
    The speed and power is good, but is it a good idea to replace metal, hydraulic cylinders with something, that can be punctured? It's good, but no Iron Man will be made with this any time soon, maybe some day.

  16. Yup! That's such a great idea! Make freaking robots smarter and stronger than the beings that created them! There is no way that'll end badly! Lmao!


  18. This is how we all die. Not this alone but it certainly won’t help when they’re both more dexterous than us and more intelligent.

  19. I like all the comments mentioning "the great potential" of this solution.

    I'd say 8'000V really is quite some potential. Probably just as safe to touch as a robot made with electromagnetic motors and built with rigid structures… (= possibly deadly when out of control)

  20. Since soft robotics can grab an object and lift it, it can also grab someone's head and snap their neck. So it's still dangerous and still has no built in morality module.

  21. 1:39 its not exactly a great example of the difference in physical ability, showing a child vs a robot.
    If u put the brain of that child in the robot, you would see it get out of the car very quickly too.
    Its main issue in SPEED isnt so much the physical aspect, its the brains ability to solve problems so quickly in comparison to a computer processing zeros and ones.

    If you swapped their bodies, the robot would have even more trouble getting out of the car, cos it simply could not handle that much input of so many different moving parts.
    The brain comes first, then the body.

  22. In aA.I. robot world there would be no more hunger, greed, suffering, no more war no more corruption or crime a new level of conscious would be achieved through evolution of life and the conscious , the tree of life makes a quantum leap , a superior life force emerges from the tree of life and will end the need for the human experience since they live in corruption and slaves to interest.

  23. He didn't talk about one of the most important things…. Power efficiency…
    If it requires much more power than commons actuators then its nearly useless.

  24. Nothing all that new, some trucks have been using pneumatic-rubber-membranes instead of cylinders, for raising and lowering stuff, for a while now.
    Solving the compression with electricity, now that part is very smart.

  25. It'll be interesting to see how this technology develops and applications it's put to. No mention of efficiency, in terms of electrical power in, to muscle power out? Beyond the obvious medical and military benefits, I can see companies developing this for the lucrative personal entertainment business, of a sexual nature, in the not to distant future.

  26. After browsing through some of these thought-provoking mind- numbing comments one musically inspired phrase comes comes to mind: "fear of a female planet?"


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