An international team of researchers has invented new artificial muscles strong enough to rotate objects a thousand times their own weight, but with the same flexibility of an elephant’s trunk or octopus limbs.
In a paper published online today on Science Express, the scientists from the University of British Columbia, the University of Wollongong in Australia, the University of Texas at Dallas and Hanyang University in Korea detail their innovation.
Using yarns of carbon nanotubes that are enormously strong, tough and highly flexible, the researchers developed artificial muscles that can rotate 250 degrees per millimeter of muscle length. This is more than a thousand times that of available artificial muscles composed of shape memory alloys, conducting organic polymers or ferroelectrics, a class of materials that can hold both positive and negative electric charges, even in the absence of voltage.
“What’s amazing is that these barely visible yarns composed of fibers 10,000 times thinner than a human hair can move and rapidly rotate objects two thousand times their own weight,” says Assoc. Prof. John Madden, UBC Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “While not large enough to drive an arm or power a car, this new generation of artificial muscles – which are simple and inexpensive to make – could be used to make tiny valves, positioners, pumps, stirrers and flagella for use in drug discovery, precision assembly and perhaps even to propel tiny objects inside the bloodstream.”