A research team from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Faculty of Engineering has created efficient artificial, or "robotic" muscles, which could carry a weight 80 times its own and able to extend to five times its original length when carrying the load – a first in robotics. The team's invention will pave the way for the constructing of life-like robots with superhuman strength and ability.
In addition, these novel artificial muscles could potentially convert and store energy, which could help the robots power themselves after a short period of charging.
Led by Dr Adrian Koh from NUS' Engineering Science Programme and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the four-member team has been working on the project since July 2012.
Robots – current limitations
Robots, no matter how intelligent, are restricted by their muscles which are able to lift loads only half its own weight – about equivalent to an average human's strength (though some humans could lift loads up to three times their weight). Artificial muscles have been known to extend to only three times its original length when similarly stressed. The muscle's degree of extendability is a significant factor contributing to the muscle's efficiency as it means that it could perform a wider range of operations while carrying heavy loads.
Super, artificial muscles
Explaining how he and his multidisciplinary team managed to design and create their novel superhuman muscles, Dr Koh said, "Our materials mimic those of the human muscle, responding quickly to electrical impulses, instead of slowly for mechanisms driven by hydraulics. Robots move in a jerky manner because of this mechanism. Now, imagine artificial muscles which are pliable, extendable and react in a fraction of a second like those of a human. Robots equipped with such muscles will be able to function in a more human-like manner – and outperform humans in strength."
In order to achieve this, Dr Koh and his team have used polymers which could be stretched over 10 times their original length. Translated scientifically, this means that these muscles have a strain displacement of 1,000 per cent.