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Rocket-Powered Robot

Today’s mobile robots are severely limited by the energy capacity of the conventional batteries used to power their motors and actuators. But robots may soon take off, thanks to a team of engineers led by Michael Goldfarb and Eric Barth at Vanderbilt University. The researchers have built a novel robot actuator that runs on rocket power. For fuel, the simple, lightweight design uses liquid hydrogen peroxide stored at high pressure and mixed with a catalyst. The ensuing chemical reaction releases a flow of oxygen gas and hot steam that drives a piston. A robot arm hooked up to this rocket-propelled piston can repeatedly lift a 23-kilogram load five times longer than today’s best batteries and electric motors. Once developers have optimized both the hardware and the fuel, says Goldfarb, the rocket-powered actuator could pack 10 to 40 times the energy of a conventional actuator of similar size. That’s an improvement that would radically change the way robots are designed and used, according to Goldfarb. Vanderbilt has filed an application for a patent on the technology, and the actuator could be commercially available within the next three years.


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