A group of researchers from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of Columbia University has developed a new type of synthetic soft muscle that can be produced using 3D printing technology. The material was very durable and able to withstand a weight 1000 times greater than its own, and the limit of its energy of elastic deformation (stretching) is 15 times higher in comparison with the tissues of real muscles.
The material does not require the use of an external source for pressure control, which is often found in other existing solutions that rely on the energy of pneumatic or hydraulic inflation (inflation). These components tend to take up a lot of space, which makes them uncomfortable to use when creating machines where compactness and independence are important.
The basis of synthetic muscles is silicone rubber, which has a porous structure filled with ethanol. The material is driven by an electric current of low power transmitted over very thin wires with high resistance.
Synthetic muscle before and after activation
“We have made some progress in creating a digital brain for robots, but their bodies are still at a primitive level,” commented Hod Lipson, a mechanical engineering professor who heads the project.
“This is a big part of the general puzzle, and, like in biology, the developed synthetic muscles can take and change shape in a thousand different ways. We are beginning to overcome one of the last obstacles that prevented the creation of realistic robots. “
New synthetic muscles can be of great use in the development and production of so-called “soft” robots. In recent years, there has been tremendous progress in the creation of machines equipped with the ability to perform many subtle tasks. Nevertheless, there are still many actions that robots can not perform.
Actions related to the capture of objects and manipulation of them require a certain level of dexterity and flexibility, which the current technologies are not able to provide. New materials, similar to the one in this article, will allow you to create robots that can manipulate soft and small objects without causing them any damage.
Machines using such technologies will be able to provide reliable assistance to a person in work in situations where delicate actions are required, for example, in medicine. It is possible that such materials will be used already in the new generation of prostheses, which will provide a level of control much higher than the current prostheses provide.
Now scientists from Columbia University are planning to improve the synthetic muscles and replace the used high-resistance wires with high-conductivity materials to increase the speed and efficiency of the muscle response.