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Biotech Upgrades Science

Self-Healing Artificial Muscles 90

Valor1016 writes "Researchers in California have developed an artificial muscle that heals itself and generates electricity. 'We've made an artificial muscle that, when you apply electricity to it, it expands, more than 200 percent, the motion and energy is a lot like human muscles,' said Qibing Pei, a scientist at UCLA and study author. The researchers used flexible carbon nanotubes as electrodes. If an area of the carbon nanotube fails, the region around it seals itself by becoming non-conductive and prevents the damage from spreading to other areas. This material also conserves about 70% of the energy you put into it. As the material contracts after an expansion the rearranging of the carbon nanotubes generates a small electric current that can be captured and used to power another expansion or stored in a battery. The research appeared in the January issue of Advanced Materials."
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Self-Healing Artificial Muscles

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  • NOT Healing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:08PM (#22811924)
    The muscle does not heal. It shuts down damaged areas "to prevent spread of damage."
    Typically, "healing" refers to repair of damage, not isolation of damage.
    • Re:NOT Healing (Score:4, Interesting)

      by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:36PM (#22812268) Homepage
      It sounds similar to the rip-proof diamond weave fabric used for hot air balloons. You can cut/puncture it, but the damage will stay isolated. Still, it's far better than the normal situation in these cases where surrounding material near the defect, because it's all interdependent, becomes weaker and perpetuates the damage.
    • by AdmiralWeirdbeard ( 832807 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:52PM (#22812422)
      Though you are correct, I'm not gonna worry about it too much if its on the nanotube level of things. A few tubes out of commission will hardly keep my massively muscular robot body from raining down destruction upon mine enemies.
      • The question is, how many nanotube failures does it take until the muscle ceases to function and your evil robot has systemic failure?

        Also, it seems to me they are pumping in too much energy, if they are getting 70% back when it contracts.
        I'm pretty sure our muscles don't work that way, alhough our bodies do give off substantial heat loses, and that may be one cause. It would seem to me they could better conserve energy by looking for the minimum energy required to get the sufficient expansion, thus negatin
        • it is great to make a more efficient synthetic muscle, but our muscles actually take a ton of energy to run- otherwise we would eat like, once a month and sleep at about the same rate. As it is we are constantly feeding energy to our bodies to make them run.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Said like a true super villain, just before the hero exploits your only weakness and unleashes a horde of advanced nanotube-tearing nanobots on you.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          As long as I could still shout "OH NOOOO MY EVIL PLAAAAAAaaaannnssssss," as I died, it would be *totally* worth it.
          • ohhh yes. Especially If you raised a defiant robot fist at the end which broke apart and disintegrated as your last mournful cry echoed out over the devastated battle ground. That would be freaking sweet.

            Ok, you get started with the giant robot, and I'll get to work on the nanobots.
    • by Enleth ( 947766 )
      Actually, biological muscles aren't healing beyond minor damage either. Damaged areas are patched with connective tissue, so the damage doesn't spread and affect the muscle as a whole in a significant way, but the fibers affected will remain a bit weaker.
      • In general biological systems don't *heal* - they isolate, scar over, then grow new tissue under the scar tissue and eventually slough off the old scar tissue as a standard process along with any *old* tissue.

        So what the artificial muscle needs is a means to add new *tissue* and a means to evacuate dead *tissue*

        I can see a method similar to what insects use for their carapace as a viable way to do this... but that's a whole new challenge.

  • Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sabz5150 ( 1230938 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:09PM (#22811932)
    I'm no doctor, but...

    We've made an artificial muscle that, when you apply electricity to it, it expands
    Isn't that backwards?
    • I was about to say the same thing. How is an expanding material like a muscle again? One of the nice things about contracting actuators is that they don't buckle under load. This goes back to the 'pushing rope' concept. I'm calling "good work, but don't call it a muscle".
      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        Aren't muscles constant volume? They expand perpendicular to the direction of contraction.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by clonan ( 64380 )
          Since muscle expansion and contraction is always referenced in the direction of force, the article disagrees with you.

          The power stroke for a biological muscle is the contraction. While these "muscles" are interesting and could have many uses, powering limbs is not likely to be one in their current configuration.
          • Can't you still use them for prosthetics? For at least some of the simplier joints, I can see it working. You just have to reverse everything, so your bicep now opens your elbow, and your tricep closes it. But I agree, I would be much better if they figured out 'real muscle'.
            • Re:Question (Score:4, Insightful)

              by clonan ( 64380 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:47PM (#22812376)
              It is the "How do you push rope" question.

              In order to be biologically uselfull they will need to be pliant and flexible. If they are pliant and flexible they won't have the tensile strength to move bones around.
            • maybe we don't understand 'real muscle'? The easiest way to do a handstand is through expansion of your muscles. Contraction uses lots of energy and unbalances you very easily.

              I remember when i thought (because that's the way i was taught) muscles 'worked' through contraction. I could maybe do a handstand for 5 secs. Now, through expansion, i can stand on my hands for minutes.

              Check out the angle on the arms of gymnasts doing handstands.

              It's just like the idea that western scientists have that walking

        • Aren't muscles constant volume? They expand perpendicular to the direction of contraction.
          Yes. "Expand" They keep using that word, but I do not think it means what they think it means. Human muscles contract and relax . Not the same thing at all.
          • by khallow ( 566160 )
            I know that, but I was guessing that they might be refering to expansion in another direction. Like muscles maybe?
    • by iknownuttin ( 1099999 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:35PM (#22812252)

      I'm no doctor, but... We've made an artificial muscle that, when you apply electricity to it, it expands Isn't that backwards?

      Well, I see great applications in artificial penises. Much better than the pump ones!

  • When I first heard about nanotechnology, all I saw was people creating pretty shapes with it. Now after only a few short years we have NanoSolar [] and stuff like this muscle... I really start to wonder what could be around the corner.
    • I really start to wonder what could be around the corner.

      Grey goo?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by clonan ( 64380 )
        Nah, Grey Goo is thermodynamically impossible...

        To get nano scale replicators you would get an extremly complex molecule/molecule system and at the same time to manipulate it on an atom scale you would need very high energy concentrations.

        One thing we know from biochem is that very large molecules (like DNA, proteins etc) don't last long in high energy environments.

        Nanotech replicators will requier very controlled environments and very high energy working medium to function. Outside of thoes controlled con
      • by susano_otter ( 123650 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @06:40PM (#22812902) Homepage
        Given that the earth is full of nanomachine colonies trying desperately to consume all available resources and expand indefinitely, I'm pretty sure grey goo won't be all that interesting. If algae and fungi haven't taken over the world after several billion years of trying...
        • by bindo ( 82607 )
          You are correct.
          Technology is hardly as resilient as nature, which will adapt and contain if not wipe grey goo off the planet. Just give it time :)

          Obviously we hardly will be the tool of nature in this; nor will the gray goo or the "natural response" care of what could happen to us in the mean time. (read: wiped out :))

          I am very skeptical of grey goo so I liked your angle and fell for it for a couple of secs. But really, should grey goo arise, only cockroaches and anything simpler have a chance to survive.
          • You mistake my point. I'm not saying that natural competitors will defeat grey goo. I'm saying that I don't expect grey goo to outperform algae, or fungi. If these advanced evolutionary products still haven't figured out how to find enough material and energy resources to take over the world, I doubt grey goo will somehow outperform them.

            Unless by "grey goo" you mean "nanomachines that can magically find sources of food an energy millions of times more abundant than those available to similar, naturally-ev
  • by bagboy ( 630125 ) <neo@ a r c t i> on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:09PM (#22811940)
    • by gnick ( 1211984 )
      I don't see this getting all the way to the "Enlarge your member" spammers. As soon as somebody got to the line, "Simply apply voltage to your...", the sale would be out the window.
  • by Zymergy ( 803632 ) * on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:13PM (#22811976)
    ...Do they turn GREEN and get BIGGER?
  • Amazing! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:13PM (#22811980)
    Is there anything carbon nanotubes can't do? Every few weeks I read about some new application for those things; space elevators, batteries, muscles, it just doesn't end. I'm honestly impressed.
    • Umm, be economically viable in any application up to this point? They're extremely useful in all sorts of theories, but they've been worthless for consumers thus far. There was a time when the words "carbon nanotube" made me sit up and listen, now it just makes me yawn.
      • All the things he mentioned are not economically viable. However Carbon Nanotubes are already being used to stiffen items made with carbon fiber. This includes bicycles among other things. So there are some viable applications.
    • by Khyber ( 864651 )
      Carbon nanotubes cannot act as veins/arteries, at least as of yet. When that happens, humanity will be taking a whole new direction, at least in the commerce section.
  • Self healing? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ruin20 ( 1242396 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:15PM (#22812002)
    The system isn't so much self healing as failure resistant. The fact that broken nanotubes seal themselves in order to prevent damage from spreading doesn't mean that they are self healing, just that they don't propagate failure. They don't regain strength over time after being damaged. Also the fact that they recover 70% of energy used doesn't make them energy efficient, energy efficient would be to find out that the energy used to exert a force over a distance or the power required to get the actuator to push a load at a velocity was nearly equivalent to the electrical input. Plus even if it was really efficient you still need to supply the power in the first place, so there's a high overhead. Even at 100% efficiency for the non-recoverable energy, you'd be supplying 333% of what you got out in physical labor from the device.
    • But still are human muscles that efficient?
    • Yikes! Didn't you learn about kinetic and potential energy when you were a kid? If a robot arm using this muscle is used to lift something then it creates potential energy. When that object is put down it will be changed to kinetic energy and that's where the muscle could recover part of the energy it used to lift the item in the first place.
  • Reports of our new Giant Mecha [] Overlords have been exaggerated.

    TFA doesn't mention size, that I saw, but if you can cause non-negligible damage with a pin, I'm guessing the mecha would have to be measured in mm or cm rather than meters...

  • Contraction speed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:25PM (#22812136)
    One big question about artificial muscles is about the time required for the muscle to contract. One can make an artificial muscle out of an aligned block copolymer, but it would generally take hours to do anything after the electric potential is applied.

    Reversibility, flexibility, bio-compatibility, and tensile strength are also important considerations. When the article is published in Advanced Materials, I'm actually going to read it to find out.
    • I think these are good points that need to be addressed before we can actually call the material "revolutionary".
  • Does this mean the nanosuit from Crysis may actually become a reality in the near future?
  • by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @05:35PM (#22812250) Homepage Journal
    From TFA:
    Artificial muscles have been around for years but have essentially hamstrung themselves. Some artificial muscles get so big they tear, developing uneven film thickness and random particles that cause muscle failure.

    Grooooooan. I guess I'm dating myself, but I remember when the Discovery Channel had something to do with "science". :(
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I guess I'm dating myself...
      You're not alone... A lot of slashdot readers are dating themselves.
  • I don't think its quite accurate to say that the muscles "heal" themselves. Its more that they don't get worse once damaged. Some function/efficiency will likely be lost and as damage accumulates they can still fail. I have some friends working at MIT on actuated knees and fingers and some of the current major roadblocks to further progress have a lot to do with limitations with artificial muscle technology. This research seems promising, as it seems to prevent a short circuit of sorts.
  • ... I think the whole thing is a SHAM.
  • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 ) <> on Thursday March 20, 2008 @06:12PM (#22812634)
    Wait, so they've invented a muscle that can isolate damage and keep on going? Didn't anyone learn ANYTHING from Terminator 2? T-1000, here we come...
  • $ELF HE4L1NG PEN1$ $UPPLEMENT!!@!@!!! WILL ADD 4 to 6 HOURS!!!!
    ORD3R NOW!
  • The Cylons were created by Man.
    They Rebelled.
    They Evolved.
    There are many copies.
    And they have a Plan.
    • Does this quality as 'intelligent design'?? Are humans intelligent (dispite evidence to the contrary)?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 )
      ... and they have a self healing artifical penis that expands to up to 100 times its original size.
  • Minor stop on the road to robot limbs.
  • Another expansion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by brassman ( 112558 ) on Thursday March 20, 2008 @09:03PM (#22814314) Homepage
    "As the material contracts after an expansion the rearranging of the carbon nanotubes generates a small electric current that can be captured and used to power another expansion or stored in a battery."

    The other expansion should not be of the same muscle, of course; alternate between two opposing muscles and you can get a very efficient walking motion going.

    (I said "walking," dammit, not "wanking!")

    All of the posts complaining that "muscles should contract, not expand" -- hey, it's not that hard to use an expansion to create a useful pulling force. Wrap an elastic sleeve around it that will get shorter as it gets rounder, and mechanically it will work very much like a muscle.

  • I found the bit on generating electricity interesting.

    Imagine flags that generate electricity just by flapping in the wind. Every electric car could have a few, same with ships. Wind farms would be fields of flags instead of propellers, much more space-efficient. Sounds wonderful.
  • Could you pull a hatch off a tank if you had muscles made of this material? Or would they break themselves against the strain?
  • That we have Myomer Muscles..

    Lesse.. only thing left is a Mini-Fusion plant.. and then I will have all the Mechs I want.

    Next item on agenda: Change name to Nicolas Kerensky
  • However you slice it, that's just friggin COOL.

We declare the names of all variables and functions. Yet the Tao has no type specifier.