Brainy Robots Get Brawny with Artificial Muscles
Artificial intelligence is slated to grant future robots the brains for world domination, now it turns out they’ll also have the brawn.
A research team from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering has created artificial muscles that can stretch five times their original length and could give robots the ability to lift up to 80 times their own weight. To put this in perspective, that would roughly be like an average 190 pound man bench pressing a 7.5-ton African elephant. This is a first in the field of robotics and will likely pave the way for life-like robots with superhuman strength.
Led by Adrian Koh from NUS’s Engineering Science Programme and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the team has been working on the project for a year. To make these muscles, Koh and his team used ultra stretchable polymers.
“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,” Koh said in a news release. “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 addition to super strength, the artificial muscles could potentially convert and store energy, which could allow robots to stayed powered even after short periods of charging.
“As the muscles contract and expand, they are capable of converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. Due to the nature of this material, it is capable of packing a large amount of energy in a small package,” Koh said. “We calculated that if one were to build an electrical generator from these soft materials, a 10kg system is capable of producing the same amount of energy of a 1-ton electrical turbine.”
Koh and his team are still refining the muscles and will soon be filing patents. In about three to five years, they envision a robotic arm, about half the size and weight of a human arm, that can beat a human in an arm wrestling contest.