Muscles connecting the upper extremity to the vertebral column. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
University of Texas nanotechnology researcher Ray Baughman led an international team of researchers in creating tiny artificial muscles that are 200 times as strong as of comparably sized human muscle fibres, which represents a great breakthrough in the quest for more realistic humanoid robots.
In the future the team claim that improved versions of these muscles could be incorporated into many mechanical devices. In fact researchers world-wide having been trying to develop artificial muscles to emulate natural muscle working. This would allow for more delicate movements than is currently possible in mechanical devices.
To date motors have usually powered moving parts in mechanical devices but this new muscle – dubbed yarn because of the way it is woven – and could work well in small medical devices to begin with. The team foresee a time when humanoid robots could be given a much more realistic appearance.
The team expressed a wish to now work on creating longer ropes of the muscle. One thing they hope to do is to weave a protective fabric for fire-fighters’ uniforms which would automatically seal its pores when faced with a sudden flash. Yarn muscles are made of carbon nano-tube ropes twisted into thicker yarns, after which the spaces between are filled with various materials, including paraffin wax.
Muscles contraction was achieved via the team heating them briefly. This caused the paraffin wax to expand, making the nano-tube walls first fatter and shorter, then narrower and longer again as they cooled. Being able to repeat this cycle every 25 milliseconds meant that the fibres behave like muscle tissue capable of lots of tasks.
When the team crack the secret of weaving the material so that fabrics requiring miles of it can be produced they will be satisfied. They are also aiming to make the fibres reactive to chemicals instead of heat. This would be much more energy-efficient, even more closely mimicking the action of real muscle tissue and promising an amazing future for the robotics industry.
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