With funding from DARPA, Otherlab has designed a pneumatic robot arm and a six-legged inflatable robot, strong enough to carry people around. Watch the video to see how this works.
If you have seen the sort of big robots that DARPA tends to build, you will know that they are slightly scary. Any time metal moved by actuators comes close to humans there is the possibility of an accident. With a pneumatic robot - a "pneubot" - everything is different. It's soft but still very strong. DARPA gave some funding to Otherlab and they created Ant-Roach and a pneubot arm.
Essentially they are big blow up toys but with pneumatic or hydraulic actuators. Ant-Roach is a big six legged cross between an insect and an ant eater weighing only 70lbs but it is strong enough to carry people as it walks. The inflatable robot arm is less than 2lb but can lift a few hundred pounds.
The best way to see why these robotic platforms are special is to see them in action:
The movement may not be smooth but it can be carried into position by one man and two or three people can ride on its back.
If you find that you can't take Ant-Roach seriously try the inflatable robotic arm:
You also need to keep in mind that these are prototypes and they seem to be improving rapidly. It is clear that pneubots have a role to play in a lot of niche applications. I also think that the basic idea is simple enough for amateurs to incorporate into a design. An inflatable Asimo anyone?
There is a very long account of the idea at Hizook and the Otherlab blog has a lot more information and videos.
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