inflatable robots for DARPA
aug 25, 2012
inflatable robots for DARPA

‘AIRarm’ by irobot
image © martin lamonica/CNET

created as part of one of several research programs funded by DARPA, massachusetts-based irobot have developed a range of
inflatable robots in pursuit of more transportable, more effective, and more economical androids for use in combat.
there are two iterations of the ‘advanced inflatable robotics’ (AIR) research prototypes, one being a manipulator arm (AIRarm) –
able to grip and swivel – and another known affectionately as the ‘hexabot’, which looks like a spider but walks on only six legs.

there are three main benefits of the new units – the key one being the drastically reduced weight due to the lightweight materials used,
while still able to maintain the same functionality as that of a solid robot, and at a much more affordable production cost.
the current non-inflatable bots weigh over 15 pounds, whereas the ‘AIRarm’ weighs under half a pound, and depending on
how pumped up the arm is, it can lift up to five pounds.

another feature of the innovation is the amount of volume the elements can compress into, where the ‘AIRarm’ is able to be
‘crammed into a ball’ and therefore does not impose on precious space that is often an important factor on the battlefield.
the final advantage of the advanced technology is the ‘soft touch’ abilities, where the pressure in the arm can be decreased,
so that it will merely crumple or fold over when it hits a surface, as well as easily mould to various forms such as door knobs.

chris jones, director for research advancement at irobot comments:

you need to have a soft touch, but still have some strength. with an inflatable arm, you can change its compliance so you can
change the arm’s ability to deform. if it’s driven into a wall and an arm isn’t inflatable, it will drive through the wall or break the arm…
and you may have opportunities to inflate and deflate different parts of the arm to get access through a small opening,
and then get a large arm on the other side

DARPA has granted irobot an additional US650,000 contract to carry on the work on inflatable manipulators under the initiative.

a video showing the ‘AIRarm’ in use

image via

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