Term: Artificial Muscles

Description

"Artificial muscles" is a generic term used for materials or devices that can reversibly contract, expand, or rotate within one component due to an external stimulus (such as voltage, current, pressure or temperature)

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Introduction and Background

As humans, we use our muscles for each and every task that we partake in. We use our legs to walk and to run and our arms to pick up objects and to help us balance. Humans have three types of muscles. Skeletal muscles, are the muscles that we can see on the outside, the ones that are attached to our skeleton. Smooth muscles, which are in our digestive system such as blood vessels and bladder. And lastly, cardiac muscles which are those found in the heart.

Muscles are essential to human life and to human movement. Unfortunately, not all of us are lucky enough to have strong, working muscles. Some of us lose our muscles due to accidents, but some of us are also born without them. While we nowadays widely see artificial extremities, such as legs and arms, it is more complicated to replace the more complex structures that are muscles. Even though the development of artificial muscles has been slow, some recent breakthroughs provide the hope that one day they will be a common practice that will assist the lives of thousands of people.

NUS Project

The National University of Singapore's Faculty of Engineering recently made a breakthrough in the field of artificial intelligence when they created artificial muscles made from polymeric molecules. These muscles, which are able to lift up to 80 times its own weight, as well as stretch to 5 times their original length could pave the way for robots with human-like strength. According to Adrian Koh, the leader of the project, the materials that were used to create these artificial muscles are meant to closely imitate human qualities, such as responding to electrical impulses as well as converting and storing energy. Currently, artificial muscles can only stretch up to 3 times their original size and can only carry up to half their own weight, which makes the NUS project even more significant.

The team is currently in the process of building more human-like muscles. They hope to build a robotic arm that is capable of beating a human in an arm wrestling contest. Such an arm will hopefully be capable of human tasks such as picking up and loading items accurately.

UT Dallas Project

Scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas, along with an international team have developed artificial muscles that "can lift more than 100,000 times their own weight and generate 85 times more mechanical power than the same size natural muscle". These muscles were composed of nanotech yarns and were infused with paraffin wax. The muscles are made of yarns that are made of carbon nanotubes, which are smaller than a human hair but stronger than steel. However, it is not believed that these muscles are yet suitable for use in humans.

But yet, this development provides the potential for crucial developments in artificial muscles that are useful to humans. According to Dr. Ray Baughman, the project-team leader, the simplicity and high performance that these muscles have had allows his team to believe that they could have a variety of future applications such as robots, catheters, and microvalves.

Conclusion

The development of artificial has been slow, but as science and technology have advanced more breakthroughs have been reached. We should continue to see improvements in current artificial muscle technologies and can expect to one day have the most modern creations adapted for human use.

Sources Consulted:
https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/44257
http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2013/sep/10/artificial-muscles-lift-heavy-loads
http://www.engadget.com/2013/09/05/artificial-muscles-superhuman-strength/
http://www.foresight.org/nanodot/?p=5467