Global Technology - May 2018

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Now, let’s examine the most important technological and scientific breakthroughs emerging from labs around the world.

Never-tiring artificial muscles would be a real boon for robotics and related fields.

As explained recently in the journal Smart Materials and Structures, some Illinois researchers have designed artificial muscles capable of lifting up to 12,600 times their own weight. These muscles are capable of, contracting by more than 25 percent and doing “specific work” of up to 758 Joules/kg; that’s 18 times more than the specific work natural muscles are capable of producing.

The new muscles are made from carbon fiber-reinforced siloxane rubber and have a coiled geometry.  When electrically actuated, the carbon fiber-based artificial muscles show excellent performance without requiring a high input voltage. The researchers demonstrated that a 0.4 mm diameter muscle bundle is able to lift half a gallon of water by 1.4 inches with only 0.172 Volts/cm applied voltage.

The range of applications of these low cost and light weight artificial muscles is really wide and involves different fields such as robotics, prosthetics, orthotics, and human assistive devices.  The mathematical model the Illinois team used is a useful design tool to tailor the performance of coiled artificial muscles to fit different applications. Furthermore, the model provides a clear understanding of all the parameters that play an important role in the actuation mechanism, and this encourages future research works toward the development of new types of fiber-reinforced coiled muscles with enhanced properties.

Coiled muscles were originally invented using nylon threads rather than carbon fibers. They can exert large actuation strokes, which would make them incredibly useful for applications like human assistive devices, if only they could be made much stronger.

The team set a target of transforming carbon fibers, a very strong lightweight material which is readily available, into artificial muscles.

To use carbon fibers, they had to understand the mechanism of contraction of coiled muscles. Once they uncovered the theory, they learned how to transform carbon fibers into ultra-strong muscles. They simply filled...

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