Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new technology, which would put even the most ardent bodybuilders to shame—an artificial muscle that can lift 12,600 times its own weight.
The muscle is made using carbon fiber (for strength) reinforced with a form of rubber known as polydimethylsiloxane (to provide flexibility). The resulting material is twisted into a coiled shape and powered by electricity.
The technology works by applying a small electric current to each end, which heats the material and makes it contract, pushing the carbon fibers apart.
In a study published in the journal Smart Materials and Structures, engineers Sameh Tawfick, Caterina Lamuta and Simon Messelot demonstrated that an artificial muscle of just 0.4mm in diameter is capable of lifting half a gallon of water by 1.4 inches using only minimal electricity. The work—the transfer of energy from one place to another—is 18 times more than what human muscles are capable of.
Coiled artificial muscles were only invented recently using nylon threads, but they could prove to be incredibly useful in a range devices, the researchers said.
"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," Lamuta said in a statement.
The team also developed a mathematical model to describe how their technology would function in different applications, which could be helpful for researchers developing new artificial muscles with specific properties.
Recent advances in this field have led to ever more complex creations. For example, a 2018 paper in Science described an artificial muscle which can self-heal, while a 2017 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detailed a flexible “origami” muscle which can lift 1,000 times its own weight.
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