Biomimetic Artificial Muscles
A new artificial muscle, which could carry a weight 80 times its own and is able to extend to five times its original length when carrying the load, has been created by a research team from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering. The team believes its invention will pave the way for the construction of life-like robots with superhuman strength and ability.
In addition, these novel artificial muscles could potentially convert and store energy, which could help the robots power themselves after a short period of charging.
The team was led by Dr Adrian Koh from NUS’ Engineering Science Programme and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Explaining how he and his multidisciplinary team managed to design and create their novel superhuman muscles, Dr Koh said, “Our materials mimic those of the human muscle, responding quickly to electrical impulses, instead of slowly for mechanisms driven by hydraulics. Robots move in a jerky manner because of this mechanism. Now, imagine artificial muscles which are pliable, extendable and react in a fraction of a second like those of a human. Robots equipped with such muscles will be able to function in a more human-like manner – and outperform humans in strength.”
In order to achieve this, Dr Koh and his team have used polymers which could be stretched over 10 times their original length. Translated scientifically, this means that these muscles have a strain displacement of 1,000 per cent.
A good understanding of the fundamentals was largely the cause of their success, Dr Koh added.
“We put theory to good use. Last year, we calculated theoretically that polymer muscles driven by electrical impulse could potentially have a strain displacement of 1,000 per cent, lifting a load of up to 500 times its own weight. So I asked my students to strive towards this Holy Grail, no matter how impossible it sounded,” he said.
Though they could only achieve a modicum of their target, it is a first in robotics. For his contributions, Dr Koh was awarded the Promising International Researcher Award at the 3rd International Conference on Electromechanically-Active Polymer Transducers and Artificial Muscles in June 2013, held in Zürich, Switzerland. The Award recognises young researchers from outside Europe, who have made significant contributions in the field of electromechanically-active polymers, and display promise to successful career in the field.
Fans of Battletech recall that the giant robot "mechs" are powered by an artificial muscle called "Myomer", a fibrous material consisting of microscopically thin tubes filled with a substance (acti-strandular fiber) that contracts when voltage is applied. (See also the power wagons from Jack Vance's 1967 novel The Last Castle for a similar idea.)
Update 02-Apr-2014: See the entry for Quasi-Muscles (Sham Musculature) from HG Wells' 1898 novel The War of the Worlds. End update.
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