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Cybernetic Super Robots Poised To Take Over World, Battle Super Monkeys 

SRI International is working hard to realize the dreams of roboticists and artificial intelligence researchers.
Forget robots that walk. Think robots that swim, fly or wriggle. SRI is developing artificial muscles to give robots the ability to run, jump and climb like biological creatures.

In a windowless SRI lab, a small, spider-like robot named Flex sits on a table. It rests on eight legs powered by hollow rolls of electroactive polymers. When subjected to electrical current, the thin rubber-like material allows the robot to move and bend like a real insect would. Next to Flex sits Hex, a decade-old six-legged robot with a mass of motors and wiring attached to each limb.

"If a robot is really going to be able to run, jump and throw Will Smith out of a window . . . it's not going to be do that with motors and gears,'' says Roy Kornbluh, a senior SRI research engineer.

That's because robots with mechanical limbs are heavy and require not only large power supplies but significant computational ability as each movement must be precisely calculated.

Robots with artificial muscles have the flexibility to move without the need for such calculations. "We want to try and imitate muscles; that's how things move more fluidly and climb,'' said Kornbluth. "Using artificial muscles, you could make a robot that swims.''

He presses a button on a console and a butterfly-shaped robot flaps wings made from artificial muscle. Another robot in the lab is shaped like a snake and could be used to repair pipelines and explore confined spaces.

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