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September 11, 2013
2 Min Read
Artificial muscles have evolved substantially since SRI International (Menlo Park, CA) was hired to develop electroactive-polymer-based muscles to replace the inefficient electromagnetic actuators used in robotics. These agencies commissioned the research and development of a new generation of actuation technology based on (EAP).
Now, researchers based in Singapore have developed powerful artificial muscles that address one of the main shortcomings of robots: their strength profile relative to their weight. Robots are, on this basis, much weaker than humans and are only able to life roughly half of their weight. Human can lift up to three times their weight.
That, however, could change as the researchers at the Faculty of Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed artificial muscles from polymer fiber that mimic natural muscle, capable of reacting in a fraction of second while avoiding the jerky movements often found in hydraulically-driven robots. The muscles can also stretch to an impressive five times their initial length. Made from dielectric elastomers, the muscles could theoretically stretch to up to ten times of their length without breaking.
Robots also could use the artificial muscles to charge themselves after a short period of charging.
Most impressively, however, is the muscles' strength. Capable of lifting eight times their weight, an electrical generator made from the materials could produce the same amount of energy as an electrical turbine weighing one ton. Acccording to Adrian Koh, PhD from the NUS, "polymer muscles driven by electrical impulse could [hypothetically] potentially have a strain displacement of 1,000 per cent, lifting a load of up to 500 times its own weight."
Time will tell if researchers can hit that goal. In the next five years, however, the researchers expect to be able to be able to develop a robot that is stronger than a human that weighs half as much.
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