Scientists from the National University of Singapore have designed a new type of artificial structure which emulates organic muscle.
Despite the ever increasing complexity of artificial intelligence programs, the movements of even the most advanced robots still tend to be jerky and stilted. This is because almost all modern large scale robotics use hydraulic systems, which are slow to respond to the electrical systems and cannot easily support the stresses of movements similar to those human muscles undergo every day.
Now, after more than a year of development, the team led by Dr Adrian Koh have designed artificial muscle strands which can successfully replicate the movement of muscle tissue.
The polymer formulated by Dr Kohs’ team can stretch to up to ten times its original length without deforming or warping. This means the material has a theoretical strain displacement of one thousand per cent, or five hundred times the weight of the polymer strand. While this is the maximum calculated effort of the structure, the trials the team ran showed that it could lift eighty times its own weight at its present configuration.
However, it is anticipated that as they refine the design, the control codes and the electrical impulses which activate the contractions, they will achieve greater magnitudes of strength.
There is also a very useful by-product generated by the movement of these mechanical muscles; they can produce electricity. As the polymer fibres expand and contract, they can convert the mechanical energy of their movement into an electrical current. The power efficiency of the polymer is such that a generator constructed with ten kilograms of the material could produce the same energy output as a turbine a hundred times its weight. After less than a minute of preparatory charging, an android constructed with this technology could have sufficient energy output to be almost self-sustaining.
Within the next five years, Koh hopes that his team will be able to construct a fully functional robotic arm powerful and dextrous enough to pick up and reposition objects within its reach, and even arm wrestle against human opponents. If this arm is as strong as the team hopes it will be, it will be able to win them too.