It’s hard to make a robotic pile of nuts and bolts move in a realistic or human way.
Nevertheless, researchers at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute in New Zealand hope to change the current status quo by creating stretchy artificial muscles to allow for more flexibility and human-like movement.
The motor uses only a few moving parts, while the “muscles” require no gears, cogs, screws, or bearings to fuction.
“There’s huge potential for this kind of actuator,” says Chris Melhuish, director of the Bristol Robotics Lab in the UK.
“We are going to have a [totally] different class of robot.”
The jelly muscles are made from an insulating polymer film that can stretch more than 300 percent of its original size.
On the other side of the film, is a layer of conducting carbon grease which accumulates a positive charge on one side and a negative charge on the other. The charge helps attract the layers to each other where the polymer layer contracts and expands between the two charged sides.
The video above shows six muscles in action moving to turn the shaft of the motor.
Designed to resemble the spokes of a bicycle wheel, the muscles are attached in the middle to a central foam ring around the shaft. In essence, the foam ring replaces the ratcheting mechanism used in previous devices by leveraging electroactive polymers to create rotation.
A company called Artificial Muscle in Sunnyvale, California, is developing the EAP motors, which have touchscreen monitors for haptic response and feedback.
The new design and motor don’t require rigid pieces, which means the new technology could be a perfect fit for artificial muscles. With EAP muscles, surgeons could also perform less invasive surgeries as they squeeze through small incisions. Of course, the technology could also be used within robots to create more lifelike movement.