This artificial muscle is about to make robots more human-like than ever
New device allows for more fluid movement when powered by heat. Oh, and it also has superhuman strength.
Behold, the next wave in robotics: synthetic muscle that mimics the fluidity of human movement, but with the added bonus of superhuman strength.
It's like science fiction without the fiction. This revolutionary material was just developed by researchers at Columbia University and published in a new paper by postdoctoral student Aslan Miriyev, who obtained his Ph.D from Ben-Gurion University in Israel. His mentor, Israeli-born Professor Hod Lipson, runs Columbia's Creative Machines Lab, where the new muscle was created.
“We’ve been making great strides toward making robots minds, but robot bodies are still primitive,” Lipson, who also helped conduct the research, said. “This is a big piece of the puzzle and, like biology, the new actuator can be shaped and reshaped a thousand ways. We’ve overcome one of the final barriers to making lifelike robots.”
The team's findings, reported in the journal Nature Communications, explain how the actuator was made: the material is a silicone rubber matrix with micro-bubbles of ethanol inside. The solution, researchers said, combined the elastic properties and extreme volume change attributes of other material systems while also being easy to fabricate, low in cost and made of environmentally safe materials.
And in addition to its ability to move like a human, it can lift things – very heavy things. It can actually lift 1,000 times its own weight. For perspective, an ant can lift 30 times its own weight. Which is still pretty good, for an ant.
"It’s the closest artificial material equivalent we have to a natural muscle," Miriyev said.
As with any new discovery, this one's going to require further scrutiny. The team said it hopes to one day incorporate artificial intelligence into the material to not only mimic natural motion, but let the device think for itself, too.
Imagine that. Or don't. A robot might do it for you.
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