New artificial muscles move heavy loads with flexibility of elephant’s trunk

An international team of scientists and engineers have invented new artificial muscles that are strong enough to rotate objects two thousand times their own weight, but with the same flexibility of an elephant’s trunk or octopus limbs.

The researchers developed the artificial muscles that can rotate 250 degrees per millimetre of muscle length, using yarns of carbon nanotubes that are enormously strong, tough and highly flexible.

This is more than a thousand times that of available artificial muscles composed of shape memory alloys, conducting organic polymers or ferroelectrics, a class of materials that can hold both positive and negative electric charges, even in the absence of voltage.

“What’s amazing is that these barely visible yarns composed of fibres 10,000 times thinner than a human hair can move and rapidly rotate objects two thousand times their own weight,” said Assoc. Prof. John Madden, University of British Columbia Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“While not large enough to drive an arm or power a car, this new generation of artificial muscles – which are simple and inexpensive to make – could be used to make tiny valves, positioners, pumps, stirrers and flagella for use in drug discovery, precision assembly and perhaps even to propel tiny objects inside the bloodstream,” Madden added.

The discovery has been published online on Science Express.

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