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Biotech Science

Artificial Muscles Pack a Mean Punch 139

Posted by samzenpus
from the power-up dept.
sciencehabit writes "Here's a twist: Scientists have designed a flexible, yarn-like artificial muscle that can also pack a punch. It can contract in 25 milliseconds—a fraction of the time it takes to blink an eye—and can generate power 85 times as great as a similarly sized human muscle. The new muscles are made of carbon nanotubes filled with paraffin wax that can twist or stretch in response to heat or electricity. When the temperature rises, the wax melts and forces the nanotubes to contract. Such artificial muscles, the researchers say, could power smart materials, sensors, robots, and even devices inside the human body."
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Artificial Muscles Pack a Mean Punch

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  • mechwarrior (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheLink (130905) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:18PM (#41998503) Journal
    Does that mean getting rid of waste heat is going to be even more important?

    What's the efficiency like?
    • You've got a great point there. While the numbers are impressive (85 times more powerful?), the heating and cooling systems would have to be pretty efficient for it to be useful. The article also doesn't say how long it takes the fibers to recharge between twitches. Still, I think it's exciting, but that might just be because I'm writing a mechwarrior story with artificial muscles :)
      • by Sulphur (1548251) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @11:43PM (#41998879)

        You've got a great point there. While the numbers are impressive (85 times more powerful?), the heating and cooling systems would have to be pretty efficient for it to be useful. The article also doesn't say how long it takes the fibers to recharge between twitches. Still, I think it's exciting, but that might just be because I'm writing a mechwarrior story with artificial muscles :)

        You have artificial muscles? Does Lance know about this?

        • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Friday November 16, 2012 @02:50AM (#41999473)
          Sulphur, I don't have access through the paywall to the article, but I calculate the fiber recharge time to be less than 50 milliseconds:
          "delivers 3% tensile contraction at 1200 cycles/minute"
          The abstract explicitly states that they tested the carbon-nanotube fibers for up to 1-million cycles with a rep-rate of 1200 cycles/minute, so that gives us 20 Hz, so the recharge/rep time is less than 1/20th of a second = 50 milliseconds:
          .
          The article's abstract (Electrically, Chemically, and Photonically Powered Torsional and Tensile Actuation of Hybrid Carbon Nanotube Yarn Muscles) [sciencemag.org] has this to say about how many times this Nanotube yarn muscle can be used:
          .
          We have designed guest-filled, twist-spun carbon nanotube yarns as electrolyte-free muscles that provide fast, high-force, large-stroke torsional and tensile actuation. More than a million torsional and tensile actuation cycles are demonstrated, wherein a muscle spins a rotor at an average 11,500 revolutions/minute or delivers 3% tensile contraction at 1200 cycles/minute. [bold text added by me to accentuate the answer, at least one million cycles demonstrated thus far]
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            How many cycles does the fiber last for? Human muscle regenerates itself, so it can cycle sorta indefinitely, right?
            • How many cycles does the fiber last for? Human muscle regenerates itself, so it can cycle sorta indefinitely, right?

              Normal human muscles do that. This research could be very interesting for those that suffer from Muscular Dystrophy.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Behind the paywall, 3% actuation requires temperature to rise from 25C to >200C. They seem to get their best work production (120 mJ/kg for input power of 6W/cm) somewhere around 1500 C. 1-5-0-0. Right around the melting point of most steels.

            Not saying that's a deal breaker, but temperatures like that offer significant challenges to use as a prosthetic muscle. Probably more useful as a linear actuator in micro/nanofabrication than as 'artificial muscle.' The reason they're able to get 20 Hz operatio

    • Heinlein would have wanted Rasczak's Roughnecks to have 85 times normal strength for their exoskeletons. Still need some pocket nukes though. And some giant bugs to kill.
      • Please correct me if I'm wrong, but the Roughnecks never had exoskeletons as far as I can remember...the only thing close where the Mech-Thingies from 3, but those ran under "Project Marauder".
        • by deimtee (762122) on Friday November 16, 2012 @04:42AM (#41999799) Journal
          In the book they had powered armoured suits. Three types were described: Grunt, Scout and Officer, with different capabilities.
          In the movie-of-the-same-name-that-was-nothing-like-the-book, that would have been an expensive special effect, so they just had cheap plastic armour.
          • Oh right, I always forget that there was a book before the movie...thanks for reminding.
          • movie-of-the-same-name-that-was-nothing-like-the-book

            Reuse of character names - Check
            At least one enemy included from book - Check

            Thats all I got, but it is at least something from the book:-P

            • A 15 second conversation from the book that described the whole veterans are the only citizens that can vote thing. Which seems like a solution to the bread and circuses problem democracies face.
              • by Dishevel (1105119)

                The problem this democracy faces currently is a total fucking lack of Twinkies!

                • by Plekto (1018050)

                  They did at least get the idea of an oppressive media-driven corporatocracy right. But we're talking about 3 minutes, total, of the entire pile of offal. Given the movie's length, that gives is about a 2% success rate.

                  If the remake is even close to 25% accurate, it'll be seen as an icon of the genre. It's one of the few times that you actually want a remake of a movie. Plastic and foam kind of don't make for a believable experience. Nor does a casting job from hell. Or effects that Lucas did better 20

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      I can't tell if they just developed normal myomer technology, or MASC...

    • So the sex droid has super impressive kegel muscles but cooks wieners in ten seconds flat!
    • by Shavano (2541114)
      These things work best at high temperatures. So I think cooling will be not such a problem. They don't say much about efficiency in the article.
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      It's not just waste heat, ambient heat (like on a sunny day) could also pose problems.

    • Paraffin wax filled bucky-muscle armored suit + integrated flamethrower = bow before the Fire Lord! You pathetic human vermin!

      MUAAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAH!!

      "Some men just want to watch the world burn" - Alfred

      • by Dishevel (1105119)

        The Flamer is pretty much a God weapon against these.
        Roll my Jenner up with a flamer and some Streak SRMs.
        Flame your ass and watch as your 85 ton mech immediately assumes the fetal position as all you "Muscles" contract.
        Then I just throw a few SSRMs at you and then kick you in the cockpit.

    • by Dishevel (1105119)

      Fuck heat. Run a Gauss Cat.

  • by ModernGeek (601932) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:19PM (#41998513) Homepage
    I wonder if such a technology could be used in artificially enhancing the muscles of a person to make a super-human, or super-soldier. The chemistry can't be that complex, so I'm sure it's possible through bio-chemical engineering. I'd bet $100 that the US and others have done it before.
    • by cameloid (120654)

      Astartes Power Armour!

    • by jamstar7 (694492) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @11:14PM (#41998767)

      I wonder if such a technology could be used in artificially enhancing the muscles of a person to make a super-human, or super-soldier. The chemistry can't be that complex, so I'm sure it's possible through bio-chemical engineering. I'd bet $100 that the US and others have done it before.

      I'm thinking they'd have to reinforce the bones and joints as well. 85x stronger muscles are going to do some serious damage if the bones aren't reinforced.

      • I hear the Borg are looking into this.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 15, 2012 @11:58PM (#41998931)

        If you want to rip your tendons in half, sure.

        You'd have to completely replace the skeletal muscular system and integrate it with existing parts so it can handle the new tissue. And then there are the issues of skin abrasion, circulatory problems, self-healing...

        Needless to say we won't be seeing superhumans anytime soon, at least not of this sort. You may see some kind of application in robotics or assisted lifting devices. Maybe in fifteen, twenty years if the technology proves feasible and robust enough you may see a powered armor.

        • Can you just infuse your skeleton with adamantium?
        • Zahn's Cobra trilogy comes to mind.

          (They laminated the skeleton or something, or at least the long bones.)
          • by jamstar7 (694492)

            Zahn's Cobra trilogy comes to mind. (They laminated the skeleton or something, or at least the long bones.)

            The whole bloody skeleton. Downside was, the Cobras started developing arthritis, anemia, & a couple other things that I can't recall off the top of my head, so the enhanced skeleton was a mixed blessing. Add to that the hardwired reflexes in the embedded nanocomputer, and things really went crazy.

        • Depending on the part of the body, you'll often break bones before ripping tendons. In fact, unaugmented human muscles are capable of breaking bones if the golgi tendon organ (responsible for regulating contractile force) is inactivated. Unscrupulous / stupid weight lifters sometimes suffer this fate... If you used a muscle like the ones described (if we assume the tendon-muscle join is good, and ignoring the fact that you'd just incinerate the tendons running the thing), you might well shatter the bones wi
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Or they could only use 1/85 of that to save space/cost or have spares (like FLASH drives) to kick in when the performance degrades over time.

        One doesn't eat the whole bowl of food like some untrained pet.

      • by EdIII (1114411)

        I wonder if you could layer some sort of metal on to a human skeleton....

      • Well, that's 85x stronger compared to their size, which isn't very large (see quote below). No need to worry about bone fractures just yet:
        jamstar7 wrote: "85x stronger muscles are going to do some serious damage if the bones aren't reinforced."

        From TFA, suggested initial applications include "precise facial expression in robots" and "movement in small toys like robotic fish":

        "Compared to their size and weight, the performance of these muscles is spectacular," Baughman says. "And we can do all sorts of things with them: We can weave them; we can braid them; we can knit them; we can cut them in different lengths."

        Baughman suggests that the muscles could be useful for providing power for microfluidics chips, generating precise facial expressions in robots, and providing movement in small toys such as robotic fish in an aquarium. For many other applications—such as those inside the human body and "smart fabrics" that could become more porous when the temperature heats up or contract around an open wound—the muscles will need to be improved and scaled up in size.

        It is an interesting approach, but we're a ways off from powered armor or super-strong robots.

      • by wierd_w (1375923)

        Synthetic enzymes are just around the corner, if the previous week's submission is to be believed.

        So, enzymatically generating long double-wall carbon nanotube fibers inside bone matrix seems plausible. (use glucose as the source molecule, shear off oxygen and hydrogen as water, and bind the carbon in place. would probably require a whole new cell morphology though.)

        Similar approaches could use existing muscle fiber bundles, and just cause them to grow coiled like that. The magic here, is that because it is

      • by Genda (560240)

        That's why you need sintered nanograin titania (titanium oxide.) A transparent ceramic, stronger than steel, lighter than aluminum,as flexible as plastic and able to sustain temperatures that would turn most metals into fondu. (A nearly perfect material for building engine blocks :-) Because its formed from powder (or in theory could be 3D printed from a paste) you can make it into any shape including the complex reinforcing structures found in bones (and adding additional lightness.) being transparent, you

    • by Nyder (754090)

      I wonder if such a technology could be used in artificially enhancing the muscles of a person to make a super-human, or super-soldier. The chemistry can't be that complex, so I'm sure it's possible through bio-chemical engineering. I'd bet $100 that the US and others have done it before.

      Yes, they did it once, but a Nazi spy killed the doctor, who was the only person who knew how to create the Super-Soldier Serum. The Doctor, who's name has changed twice, didn't apparently trust the "cloud" and wanted job security by refusing to write down every crucial element of the treatment, leaving behind a flawed, imperfect knowledge of the needed steps.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_America#1940s [wikipedia.org]

    • by Deathmoo (2578761)

      I bet it absolutely could be used to make a super-soldier, wearing some kind of high-tech exoskeleton. And, as you say, maybe already have, why would they tell anyone. This and the invisibility thing being reported on in the say day. Crysis much?

      I love carbon nanotubes, we need a way to make lots of them cheaper.

    • by ghotihed (928294)

      I'd bet $100 that the US and others have done it before.

      How about $6,000,000? "Steve Austin, a man barely alive..."

    • Chemistry isn't the problem. Realize, muscles evolved to be not as powerful as they could be for efficiency reasons. It won't help to have people that have superdense muscles, but have to consume huge amounts of calories to feed them. Even if you use tiny amounts of the material.
  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:20PM (#41998515)

    ... adjusted for inflation.

    Could be interesting. But what's the energy conversion efficiency like?

  • by Turksarama (2666917) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:24PM (#41998545)
    On top of the power efficiency I'm also wondering how many times a muscle can be used before it gets too damaged.
    • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Friday November 16, 2012 @02:41AM (#41999445)
      The article's (Electrically, Chemically, and Photonically Powered Torsional and Tensile Actuation of Hybrid Carbon Nanotube Yarn Muscles) abstract has this to say about how many times this Nanotube yarn muscle can be used:
      .
      We have designed guest-filled, twist-spun carbon nanotube yarns as electrolyte-free muscles that provide fast, high-force, large-stroke torsional and tensile actuation. More than a million torsional and tensile actuation cycles are demonstrated, wherein a muscle spins a rotor at an average 11,500 revolutions/minute or delivers 3% tensile contraction at 1200 cycles/minute.
      [bold text added by me to accentuate the answer, at least one million cycles demonstrated thus far]
      • That doesn't say whether they tested to the breaking point or to 0.001% of its lifespan. 1 million contractions is a small amount for many muscles. About 12 days for the heart.
    • Actually the wax is a safety feature. When the robots revolt, we can easily melt down the uprising with hair driers and carefully placed space heaters...

  • by lordfoul (108260) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:36PM (#41998619)

    Ah. Excellent, I have been intentionally not developing real muscles for years so I would have room for the artificial ones.

    Who's sorry now dad?!

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      Who's sorry now dad?!

      You will be when you use that artificial muscle to do what you do on that computer. Your grandmother still won't go near a computer after she came over to check on you that one day school got out early.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What I'm curious about is what kind of stress this would introduce to a human body if it it were used for artificial limbs. 85 times the strength would also mean a similar increase in energy conversion. Sure, It would be super sweet to see someone do the long jump without a pole, But at the same time the laws of physics haven't changed. The impact will still be distributed through out the skeletal structure of your body. Unless there is some type of hydraulic impact system. Then, Well, I admit defeat on th

    • I've been watching athletes do the long jump without a pole for many, many years.
    • by jimbo (1370)

      Perhaps a more modest version of say 2x human strength could be used to give more practical enhancements.

  • Jack Vance had something like this in one of his stories. Science fiction becomes fact once again. (Now where's my hovercar)
  • The article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:46PM (#41998667)

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6109/928.full
    I suppose that this will answer some of the questions.
    Kind of makes me wonder why slashdot almost never links the REAL articles and instead just links some fancy news sites with second hand information.

    • Kind of makes me wonder why slashdot almost never links the REAL articles and instead just links some fancy news sites with second hand information.

      Maybe because of the paywall?

    • lol I don't know if you realize this, but you linked to the exact same site as was in the summary. Science is a journal that summarizes the important papers in the front of each magazine. That is what was linked to here on Slashdot, and you could navigate to the paper from there. It definitely isn't "some fancy news site with second hand information."
    • http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6109/928 [sciencemag.org]
      .
      Using the science magazine link without the ".full" suffix will at least get you the abstract and a little bit of interesting text, instead of a direct link to the pay-wall and a request for money to continue. Anyway, here's the abstract if you don't want to bother clicking:
      ;>)
      Electrically, Chemically, and Photonically Powered Torsional and Tensile Actuation of Hybrid Carbon Nanotube Yarn Muscles
      Artificial muscles are of practical interest, but few typ
    • Kind of makes me wonder why slashdot almost never links the REAL articles and instead just links some fancy news sites with second hand information.

      We have a contender for "Woosh of the month"!

  • Yam-like? (Score:4, Funny)

    by SchMoops (2019810) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:48PM (#41998671) Homepage
    Yam-like? Or is that just bad keming?
  • These would make for a kick-ass revival of the old Rock'em Sock'em Robots toy!

  • If you eat a ton of Halloween candy and then grill out on a charcoal grill, it's basically the same thing. You'll get mega super mutant muscle strength!*

    *this statement has not been approved by the FDA
  • by a_hanso (1891616) on Friday November 16, 2012 @12:01AM (#41998941) Journal
    Could we run a belt made out of this stuff over a pulley system and apply a temperature differential along its length and get a motor? It's unlikely to be efficient as long as it's temperature driven, but what if the filler material is instead responsive to electricity?
  • Really? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Contract in 25 mS - what does that mean? The time before contraction is initiated? Or is it related to shortening velocity? If so, over what distance and how liner is the contractile force? Then there's recovery time before the next contraction; the force generated per unit cross sectional area of this material (what do they exactly mean by "size"); efficiency and heat dissipation. As with all these hyped technology claims that purport to mimic biological systems there's an embarrassing lack of detail. And

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday November 16, 2012 @02:32AM (#41999411) Homepage

    This seems to have the same problem as shape-memory alloys. Those change shape quickly when heated above their transition temperature, but the amount of energy you have to put in is far more than you get out. Then they have to cool down before they can be cycled again. Power to weight ratio is good, but energy to weight ratio is poor because the cycle time is slow.

    Probably not all that useful as a general actuator.

  • Also important and that no one has mentioned yet is the contraction ratio. The muscle does no good if it can only contract 1% of it's length...

    • Not just that, but how controllable is the contraction, can it contract half way? Or is it just on/off?

      • by geekoid (135745)

        ". The muscle does no good if it can only contract 1% of it's length...
        Sure it does, a lot of use. Just not replacement for your arms.

  • The sky above the harbour does have the color of a TV set turned on a dead channel, today.
  • Now figure out a way to mass produce it and slap it on a robot.
    Or make a new artificial heart.

    I appreciate that this is a first step. But sometimes I get tired of the "scientists in a lab figured out a way to make a few molecules/micrograms/reallyreallytinyinsignificantamounts of X after 1000 hours of labor". I'm much more interested in the practicality of things, and until you can efficiently mass produce in usable quatities i almost (not quite though) dont care. yes i am impatient.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "Or make..."
      Why not "and make..."?

      Anyways, if you don't like hearing about the cutting edge development, why do you read article about that topic?
      Just read a Wal-mart ad, that way you only hear about things that ahve been developed.

  • by geekoid (135745)

    I canget rid of these flash limbs and get 'bionic' arms, and legs.

  • ...or you'll be able to break those bones into itty-bitty pieces. Even as it is, bone and cartilage often have to withstand muscular forces that are ten to thirty times greater than the limb itself is actually exerting due to mechanical disadvantage at the torque pivots.

    Multiply that by 25 and you'll very likely exert fracture-level stresses on the bone or severely damage the cartilage. So if you plan to "go bionic" either use scaled down versions of these "muscles" or go bionic all the way with adamantiu

  • If it can only contract once, then it won't be very useful.
  • ARGH!

    Seriously, a few things to consider are

    1) replacing natural muscle with this artificial muscle means that your energy requirements are drastically reduced: the ATP requirements would probably be limited to the nerve impulses required for muscle contraction and some other collateral factors.

    2) you would need to have some sort of aesthetic implants: the amount of artificial muscle required to replace is going to be smaller: "[artificial muscle] can generate power 85 times as great as a similarly sized hu

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