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Columbia University’s 3D-printed muscles may help give future robots their strength.
Call it one step closer to Terminator becoming a reality if you want, but researchers at Columbia Engineering have developed self-contained soft robotic muscles that are three times stronger than those made of natural tissue. The 3D-printed synthetic soft muscles boast a strain density (expansion per gram) that’s 15 times that of natural muscles, can lift a whopping 1,000 times their own weight, and — best of all for the cost-conscious — cost just three cents per gram to create.
The muscle-like material consists of a silicone rubber matrix and ethanol, which is distributed throughout the structure in micro-scale pockets. It doesn’t require any external pumps, pressure-regulating equipment, or high voltage converters in order to work. Instead, it requires only a low voltage to heat it enough that the ethanol in the micro-pockets boils — thereby prompting the material to expand due to the compliant nature of the silicone matrix.
“Electrically driven actuation at low voltage, along with low cost and user friendliness, may potentially revolutionize the way that soft and soft-hard robots are designed and engineered today,” Aslan Miriyev, a postdoctoral researcher in Columbia’s Creative Machines lab, told Digital Trends. “This may lead to development of low cost, nature-like soft and soft-hard robots, capable of assisting in the fields of healthcare, disasters management, elderly care, and almost any imaginable kind of assistance that people may need in their routine life, at home, on their way [to work], or at work, when robots are working side by side with humans.”
This isn’t the only example we’ve covered of soft robotic muscles. Recently, researchers in Switzerland developed a vacuum-powered robotic soft artificial muscle, capable of executing a wide range of tasks.
Next up, Aslan Miriyev said the plan for the Columbia project is to add sensing capabilities to the artificial muscle, as well as to work with computer scientists to create AI that’s able to learn how to control the soft muscles. After that? Presumably it’s just a matter of synthesizing a convincing Austrian accent, finding a leather jacket that fits, and then working out the whole time-travel thing to complete the Terminator project in style.
A paper describing the 3D-printed robot muscles was published in the journal Nature Communications.