For anyone who’s ever been fishing, twisted fishing line probably doesn’t sound like the answer to anything. But at the University of Texas at Dallas, researchers have found that a tightly twisted nylon line can produce an artificial muscle that is 100 times stronger than human muscle fiber. Just when I think I’m getting strong…
Once the fiber has been twisted to the point that it forms a tight coil, heat will cause the coil to contract just like a human muscle fiber. Researchers suspect this could lead to more human-like movements in robots or even aid the development of protective exoskeletons for military personnel. Basically, it could be sooner than you think before our Marines are rolling around in Avatar AMP suits.
Tight nylon coils waiting to flex there stuff. (Science/AAAP)
Ray Baughman, a chemistry professor at UT Dallas and the author of the artificial muscle paper appearing in the latest issue of Science, points out how much easier this process is than the traditionally employed carbon nanotubes. “For our previous artificial muscles, we had to use special nanotubes and spinning techniques that meant people around the world couldn’t do it. Here, young people can make these muscles easily and deploy them.”
The nylon fishing line is not just simpler than previous robotic systems, it is far less expensive. Baughman said that the materials used for their study cost about $5 per kilogram, while the nickel-titanium wires used for existing artificial muscles systems can cost up to $5,000 per kilogram.
Since these nylon coils are responding to heat, they could someday be utilized in clothing fibers, causing a particular garment to open or close with response to the air temperature, eliminating the excruciating process of manually unzipping your jacket a little bit. The importance of heat could also mean this technology could be used on greenhouses to automatically open or close glass panels without the use of motors or electricity.
The video below shows how applying heat to the coiled fiber causes it to contract and raise the weight.
(University of Texas at Dallas)
For more on the improvement of artificial limbs, check our coverage of the first touch sensitive robotic hand. Don’t expect it to be as simple as these artificial muscles. It involved more technology than just twisting some fishing line.
Okay, back to work for me. The simplicity of the artificial muscles has inspired me to build a nuclear reactor by folding up gum wrappers. Updates coming soon…