It has the potential to revolutionise our way of life for the better by simplifying it and making it smarter.
Although in the past researchers have put mind body and soul to figure out intricacies of building durable, low-cost synthetic muscles, it hasn’t resulted or pointed to any material progress.
Either they have been too expensive to produce for mass quantity, such as carbon nanotubes, or have been too power hungry and delicate to be useful outside controlled laboratory conditions.
However, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have finally had the ‘eureka moment’ and have managed to create robotic muscles with nylon fibre.
According to their report published in the journal ‘Advanced Materials’ on Wednesday, the secret lies in how artificial muscle fibers are shaped and heated.
It turns out, nylon fibers have a weird property, when heated they contract in length but expand in diameter. This makes them ideal for linear movement, such as lifting a weight straight up. However getting them to bend is another story.
In the past, scientists got nylon to bend by heating it up and used pulleys to take up the slack. This adds weight, cost and complexity to the production especially when you want to mass produce the product.
Scientists from MIT figured out a clever workaround. Using a normal, regular nylon filament, they first compressed it to change its fiber’s cross-section from circular to square. They then heated just one side of the fiber, causing it to contract faster than the unheated side and forcing the entire strand to bend.
The heat source can be anything ranging from electrical resistance to chemical reactions and lasers.
The nylon fibers are surprisingly resilient, and can last upto 100,000 cycles and are capable of contracting up to 17 times per second.
This breakthrough has numerous commercial and industrial applications.
Powered clothing can now be made that can contract and hug your body, which essentially eliminates sizes on racks.
They can also be used as “skin” for airplanes and cars thus providing them the possibility of changing shapes in realtime and reduce drag and optimize aerodynamics.
The technology could even lend itself to self-adjusting catheters for insulin pumps, and biomimetic robot muscles.
The technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we live.
Here’s hoping it makes it way quickly out of MIT’s labs.