While robots haven’t quite reached the point where they can replace people for all types of work, they’ve recently taken another big leap in this direction with the invention of artificial muscle that can reportedly match many of the abilities of its natural muscle counterpart.
New Artificial Muscle, New Supple Machine
The three outstanding features of this new lifelike breakthrough have to be its ability to operate with relatively little power, its use of soft materials, and its power to expand to a degree similar to living muscle.
This new artificial muscle is the result of work led by Hod Lipson of the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University. It owes its unique capabilities, in part, to the use of 3D. With this printing technique, liquid ethanol can be deposited throughout a silicone mass in the form of microscopic pockets to produce a composite material.
When a light amount of electricity is applied, only 8 volts, the soft composite object expands to ten times its original size. Comparing it to natural muscle on the basis of weight, it’s 15 times stronger.
By volume, it’s three times stronger. This artificial muscle can reportedly lift up to 1,000 its weight thanks, in part, to the lightness of the materials in its composition. These characteristics easily surpass those of previous attempts at creating soft, lifelike actuators for robots.
A Softer Future
Rigid methods such as hydraulic actuators or electric motors offer considerable strength but with the additional costs to hydraulic lines and cables that limit compactness and flexibility. This synthetic muscle eliminates these restrictions and opens the door to applications like handling delicate objects or interacting directly with people.
However, there are still drawbacks to overcome even with this new lifelike artificial muscle technology. For example, one issue would be its slow reaction times. Nonetheless, researchers consider that this achievement has already cleared quite a few hurdles.
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