iRobot's inflatable robot arm can lift 10 times its own weight

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Robot arms are usually large, heavy, and intricate—and expensive as hell. iRobot, the same company that makes the Roomba, wants to change all that by introducing a new type of fully articulating, inflatable balloon-type arm.

Meet the AIRarm: It's iRobot’s lightweight alternative to the regular metal robot arms used by most military and police bomb-disposal robots. In a video posted by IEEE Spectrum, you can see iRobot’s new AIRarm system in action as it picks up a bottle of Gatorade and a suitcase.

The AIRarm deploys from the robot’s body and it uses an on-board pump that inflates it into shape. Even though it looks like a balloon and weighs only half a pound, this arm can actually lift five pounds.

You can manipulate the AIRarm in two ways. First, by adjusting the arm's internal air pressure, you can change the arm’s rigidity to make it more flexible, or stronger to carry more weight. You can also move the arm via a set of actuators and strings that manipulate the arm like tendons.

The biggest advantage to an inflatable arm is that it would make the robot much lighter—the average mobile robot arm weights 25 pounds by itself—and more compact to carry around. The AIRarm is also much cheaper to produce or replace in case the bomb-disposal robot gets slightly blown up.

The AIRarm is just the first part of iRobot’s Advanced Inflatable Robot initiative  funded with a $650,000 contract from DARPA. The company is looking to build even more kinds of inflatable robots, including a completely inflatable mobile walker.

What other inflatable robots can you imagine? Leave a comment.

This story, "iRobot's inflatable robot arm can lift 10 times its own weight" was originally published by TechHive.

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