Index – Tech-Science – Artificial muscles have been developed, a new generation of robots is coming

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed a new material to build artificial muscles that are stronger and up to 10 times more flexible than naturally occurring muscles, according to the university’s press release.

Scientists have tried to reconstruct the body’s muscles to develop flexible robots and new tactile technology. There are already many innovative flexible materials that can perform a double task: they provide mechanical performance and withstand high stress.

A class of materials called dielectric elastomers (DE) are durable, lightweight, and highly flexible. DEs can be derived from natural or synthetic compounds and can change their size or shape when exposed to an electric field.

The need for new material

Until now, DEs have been made of acrylic or silicone, and although DEs made of acrylic can handle high stress, they are more difficult to produce and are not flexible. Silicone DEs are easy to make, but cannot withstand heavy use.

Working with the non-profit organization SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute), the UCLA team used commercially available chemicals and an ultraviolet (UV) light-based curing process to repair acrylic-based DE.

Thin as hair

PHDE is a film-like material as thin and light as human hair. The layering of these films can create the new, artificial muscle tissue, which can generate enough energy to operate even a small robot.

Older artificial muscles were only one layer thick because the earlier, “wet” process created uneven layers that were difficult to stack.

The UCLA researchers’ new “dry” method lays down PHDE films in layers and then applies UV curing.

This flexible, versatile and efficient material could open the door to a new generation of robots, the market for sensor systems and technologies that can mimic or even improve human movement.

said Qibing Pei, professor of materials science at UCLA.

These new muscles can generate many times more force than biological ones and are 3-10 times more flexible than their natural counterparts. During an experiment, the researchers also proved that the new muscle-powered structures are capable of throwing a ball 20 times larger than their weight.