Scientists have been developing artificial muscles for quite some time now. Often made from electrically responsive polymers or even carbon nanotubes, these “muscles” are able to act in similar ways as the real things — stretch, expand, contract — but their use has always been limited by their expense and relative fragility. Now, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a new kind of artificial muscle that is simpler and costs less to produce.
The researchers found that some types of nylon fiber could be made to act as artificial muscles by simply manipulating them with heat. When heated, these fibers would shrink in length but expand in diameter, causing them to bend. The fibers weren’t picky about the heat source, either, reacting the same whether it came from a chemical reaction, electricity, or even laser light.
By varying the temperature and the specific part of the fiber they heated, the researchers could manipulate the bending process at will. They believe their system could complete at least 100,000 bending cycles before it stopped working and claim it could bend and retract at a minimum rate of 17 cycles per second.
This MIT system has innumerable potential applications just waiting to be exploited. Current artificial muscle systems could be applied to automobile or airplane technology, but the high cost of producing them limits use, something that could be changed by this tech.
More exotic uses could follow. Exosuits could certainly be developed using this material, making them more affordable. Other possible uses could be to build grippers and medical devices. These artificial muscles could even be implemented into robots, which would not only make them more affordable but also easier to repair, since nylon really isn’t a scarce resource.
Ultimately, we could combine these hyperrealistic robots with AI and use them for our entertainment. “Westworld,” anyone?