All living organisms – human, animal, or otherwise – continuously move molecules around their cells. It's a crucial mechanism of life, vital for feeding cells the proteins they need to function. And now scientists at Northwestern University have created a machine that mimics this pumping mechanism. Their molecular pump is the world's first such machine developed entirely through chemical engineering in the laboratory, and it could one day power artificial muscles and other molecular machines.
Artificial muscles could one day revolutionize fields such as robotics,
prosthetics and nanotechnology. So far, we've seen examples made from
materials like electroactive elastomers, crumpled graphene, and vanadium dioxide.
The problem is, most artificial muscles can only expand in one
direction, or contract in the other. Now, however, scientists from
National Taiwan University have gotten around that limitation using
gold-plated onion cells.
When the Dragon spacecraft is propelled into space atop a Falcon 9 rocket this week on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), it will be carrying an artificial muscle material developed by Lenore Rasmussen and her company RasLabs. In addition to better prosthetic devices, it is hoped the material could find applications in robots on deep space missions.
Whether they're on robots or amputees, artificial hands tend to be rather complex mechanisms, incorporating numerous motor-driven cables. Engineers from Germany's Saarland University, however, have taken a different approach with their
hand. It moves its fingers via shape-memory nickel-titanium alloy wires, bundled together to perform intricate tasks by working like natural muscle fibers.
The recent animated feature Big Hero 6
is more than a collection of comic book fantasies – there's some hard science behind the soft robots. Baymax, the inflatable robot designed to care for humans who stars in the film may seem as unlikely as a chocolate teapot, but Chris Atkeson, professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon is working on a real life version (minus the karate and flying armor). Gizmag caught up with Atkeson to discuss the project.
Recent advances in robotics have included machines that can learn by having folks talk to them
, or droids capable of reading human emotion
. Most still look pretty much like motorized mannequins or variations on the Johnny 5
theme, though. Even advanced humanoid bots like Honda's ASIMO
would stand out as distinctly non-human in a police line-up. Such things certainly can't be said of the lifelike (some might even say positively creepy) creations of Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. Two of his latest androids have now joined the staff of Tokyo's Miraikan National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, and will act as announcer and science guide for visitors to a new permanent exhibition.
When you think of a beating heart, you probably just picture it flexing in and out, sort of like a rubber ball being squeezed by an invisible hand. In fact, though, its motion is more similar to that of a dish rag being wrung out, with the top of the organ twisting in a clockwise direction while the bottom contracts counterclockwise. It's known as the left ventricular twist, and scientists have now replicated it using artificial muscles. The research could lead to better-functioning cardiac implants, among other things.
Artificial muscles could find use in a wide range of applications, including prosthetic limbs, robotics, exoskeletons, or pretty much any situation in which hydraulics or electric motors just aren't a practical means of moving objects. Scientists have been working on such muscles for a number of years, using materials like vanadium dioxide
, carbon nanotubes
and dielectric elastomers
. Now, however, some of those same scientists have discovered that very powerful artificial muscles can be made from much more down-to-earth materials – regular polymer fishing line, and metal-coated nylon sewing thread.
If a so-called "rise of the machines" ever comes to fruition, our chances of survival may have just taken a big hit. A team of scientists from the US Department of Energy ’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has demonstrated a new type of robotic muscle
with 1,000 times more power than that of a human's, and the ability to catapult an item 50 times its own weight.
It's a classic science fiction scene: an android is injured and its human-like exterior is laid bare to reveal the metallic gears and cables of its true mechanical nature. The future is, unsurprisingly, not likely to match this scenario as our ability to mimic biology with innovations like artificial muscles improves. The latest breakthrough in this field comes from the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Engineering where researchers have developed a “robotic” muscle that extends like real muscle tissue to five times its original length, has the potential to lift 80 times its own weight and holds out the promise of smaller, stronger robots capable of more refined movements.