Scientists demonstrate a robotic muscle 1,000 times more powerful than a human's


December 23, 2013

Scientists have demonstrated a new type of robotic muscle with 1,000 times more power than human muscle

Scientists have demonstrated a new type of robotic muscle with 1,000 times more power than human muscle

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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.

The artificial muscle was constructed using the material vanadium dioxide, known for its ability to rapidly change size and shape. The team, working with a silicone substrate, formed a V-shaped ribbon comprising chromium and vanadium dioxide, which formed a coil when released from the substrate. The coil when heated turned into a micro-catapult with the ability to hurl objects, or a proximity sensor, in which its remote sensing of an object causes a rapid change or micro-explosion in the muscle’s resistance and shape, pushing the object away.

"We’ve created a micro-bimorph dual coil that functions as a powerful torsional muscle, driven thermally or electro-thermally by the phase transition of vanadium dioxide," said the project’s leader Junqiao Wu in a press statement. "Using a simple design and inorganic materials, we achieve superior performance in power density and speed over the motors and actuators now used in integrated micro-systems."

Vanadium dioxide boasts several useful qualities for creating miniaturized artificial muscles and motors. An insulator at low temperatures, it abruptly becomes a conductor at 67° Celsius (152.6° F), a quality which drives its reputation as a potential solution to more energy efficient electronic devices. In addition, the vanadium dioxide crystals undergo a change in their physical form when warmed, contracting along one dimension while expanding along the other two.

During this experiment, the vanadium dioxide muscles displayed a rotational speed of 200,000 rpm, an amplitude of 500 to 2,000 degrees per millimeters in length and an energy power density of up to approximately 39 kilowatts per kilogram, figures that Wu says are unprecedented.

"These metrics are all orders of magnitudes higher than existing torsional motors based on electrostatics, magnetics, carbon nanotubes or piezoelectrics," he said. "With its combination of power and multi-functionality, our micro-muscle shows great potential for applications that require a high level of functionality integration in a small space."

You can see both the "hurling" and the "micro-explosion" abilities of the muscle in the video below.

The team's research is published in the online version of Advanced Materials

Source: Berkeley Lab

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches. All articles by Nick Lavars

The numbers sound fantastic but it seems to be geometry dependent and therefore won't scale up. The comparison with human power is perhaps a little misleading as this will never shift the same sorts of forces as human muscle. If you were to look at the characteristics of an individual muscle fibre it will be significantly stronger per unit of mass / volume than the net effect of a bunch of fibres working as a functional muscle.

And yes I've probably over-thought it.


Samb, "a little misleading" is too kind. This is another in a long line of hyperbole science stories, from "invisibility cloaks" to teleportation. The actual science is always interesting but apparently not sensational enough for today's "journalists". At least here we have a tech savvy audience who can spot the BS.

Kevin Derby

Goodbye kind humans, you will be least by me.

Russet Burbank

Hey, guys, the first transistor looked pretty unwieldy, too, and I doubt anyone in the 50's expected it to scale to where it is today The original model built by Bell Labs in 1947 was large enough that it was pieced together by hand. By contrast, today more than 100 million 22nm tri-gate transistors could fit onto the head of a pin. And compared to Intel’s first microprocessor in 1971, a modern CPU runs over 4,000 times as fast and each transistor uses about 5,000 times less energy. Plus, the price per transistor has dropped by a factor of about 50,000.

This is an important development - it could very well be the transistor of artificial muscles. Combine this with nano-machine technology, and who knows where we'll be in 50 years...


I agree completely with Superman's dad, Jor-El. Above all, he should know, for the technologically superior Kryptonians eventually inserted the production of vanadium dioxide muscles into their genome.

Seriously now, we should be celebrating this achievement. Even if it only produces synthetic muscle elements that are only twice as powerful as that as humans, this is a great advance for machines and prosthetics that will eventually help humans achieve more on and off planet.



Totally agree with celebrating new discovery and achievement but in this case people are celebrating the wrong thing (this announcement is going through numerous print and web media now). This discovery is important for the future of nanobots - it has nothing at all to do with building artificial muscle for human sized robots.

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