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A soft robotic arm uses an origami-like skeleton in order to grasp a tire. Photo: Shuguang Li / MIT CSAIL

Soft robots with flexible and adaptable parts may be best equipped to interact with humans and occupy our sometimes unpredictable world. They can be more agile thanks to squishy and bendable materials but they also require soft versions of motors which, until now, haven't been as strong as their rigid counterparts.

What's new: In a paper published yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers at Harvard and MIT outlined a new design for artificial muscles that can provide more power to the machines than previous designs, per The Verge's James Vincent. "Soft robots have so much potential, but up until now, one of the limitations has been payloads," MIT's Daniela Rus told Vincent. "[They're] very safe, very gentle, but not good for lifting heavy objects. This new approach allows us to make strong and soft robots."

How it works: The artificial muscle is made up of a deformable origami-like skeleton inside a sealed bag. Air (or water or conceivably other fluids) is pumped in and out, creating a difference in pressure that contracts the skeleton's shape. The researchers report the muscle is able to use this action to lift 1000 times its own weight.

Different origami shapes can be used to produce different movements — twisting and bending, for example. By combining multiple muscles with different skeletal structures, the researchers envision being able to create machines that can perform complicated maneuvers — like picking up a tire. And, by changing the materials used for the different components, the muscles can be quickly and inexpensively fabricated for specific applications. (The researchers made one that dissolved in water.)

Where they could be used: Medical devices, robotic exoskeletons that humans can wear and large structures that can be deployed in space are all possible applications, the researchers wrote.

Go deeper: Read more about advances in soft robotics.

Go deeper

Broncos and 49ers the latest NFL teams impacted by coronavirus crisis

From left, Denver Broncos quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel during an August training session at UCHealth Training Center in Englewood, Colorado. Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the NFL season into chaos, with the Denver Broncos' quarterbacks sidelined, the San Francisco 49ers left without a home or practice ground and much of the Baltimore Ravens team unavailable, per AP.

Driving the news: The Broncos confirmed in a statement Saturday night that quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were identified as "high-risk COVID-19 close contacts" and will follow the NFL's mandatory five-day quarantine, making them ineligible for Sunday's game against New Orleans.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: McConnell temporarily halts in-person lunches for GOP caucus.
  3. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in DecemberAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  4. Education: U.S. public school enrollment drops as pandemic persists.
  5. Cities: Surge in cases forces San Francisco to impose curfew — Los Angeles County issues stay-at-home order, limits gatherings.
  6. Sports: NFL bans in-person team activities Monday, Tuesday due to COVID-19 surge — NBA announces new coronavirus protocols.
  7. World: London police arrest more than 150 during anti-lockdown protests — Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.

Tony Hsieh, longtime Zappos CEO, dies at 46

Tony Hsieh. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Tony Hsieh, the longtime ex-chief executive of Zappos, died on Friday after being injured in a house fire, his lawyer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He was 46.

The big picture: Hsieh was known for his unique approach to management, and following the 2008 recession his ongoing investment and efforts to revitalize the downtown Las Vegas area.