A team of researchers from the University of Bristol in the U.K. has created soft, credit-card sized pumps for powering artificial robotic muscles, paving the way for lightweight robotic clothing and devices.

According to its developers, the new electro-pneumatic pump is actuated via fluid amplified electrostatic zipping, wherein electrode deflection with assorted voltages enables the system to attain actuation.

These pumps could potentially be used to power pneumatic artificial muscles and to pump fluids, controlling volume and pressure.

Source: University of BristolSource: University of Bristol

Current robotic power systems like robotic exoskeletons featuring flexible material that mimics human muscles are typically powered by electromagnetic pumps. However, such pumps are bulky and noisy.

By minimizing the pump sizes — to 1.1 mm thick and weighing just 5.3 g — the researchers believe that the soft and flexible pumps could be used for applications including continuous pumping systems and arm-flexing wearable robotic devices, for example.

For more information, watch the accompanying video, which appears courtesy of the University of Bristol. The research also appears in the journal Science Robotics.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com