Forget steel and aluminum. The robots of tomorrow may be able to squish, stretch and squeeze

Novel robotic devices, part of the emerging field of soft robotics, offer many advances over conventional robots. Soft robots can more easily maneuver in tough spaces. They can better interact with humans, making them excellent assistants for elderly people. And one day they may lead to high-tech artificial muscles: a life-changing innovation for millions of disabled people around the globe.

Creating artificial muscles requires not only developing a powerful, flexible material, but figuring out how to precisely control and cleverly manufacture it. That’s the mission of Kwang Kim of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and his National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded team.

Kim is lead investigator on a NSF award pairing a diverse group of researchers — at four U.S. universities plus research institutions in Japan and South Korea — to transform a novel polymer-based material into artificial muscles. The research is supported through NSF’s Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) program, which supports innovative, global research collaborations across all fields of science and engineering.

PIRE leverages U.S. funding and expertise to tackle global challenges. Kim’s U.S. team is working with researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, both known for strong expertise in robotics. (KAIST, for example, won the recent Robotics Challenge, hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.) Read more


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