Artificial muscles go with the twist

Artificial muscles could be employed in a host of applications, including miniaturized medical devices, robotics and smart textiles that respond to changes in their environment. Most such muscles created to date, however, are heavy and cumbersome while being relatively slow to actuate. Three research groups are now reporting on new fibre-based designs for artificial muscles that are lightweight and fast.

A team led by Polina Anikeeva of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has used a drawing technique to create a two-faced polymer fibre that can be activated by heat and which can lift more than 650 times its own weight while withstanding strains of more than 1000% over thousands of use cycles. Bundles of the individual fibres can lift even heavier loads – just like their biological counterparts.

The researchers say they can produce the artificial muscle in large quantities – on the scale of hundreds of metres – with lateral dimensions ranging from microns to millimetres. This means that the technology could be used in applications ranging from the microscale (for example, in medical microrobots for surgery) to the macroscale (for example, lightweight prosthetic limbs).

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