Pioneering Progress: Cutting-Edge Electric Artificial Muscles with Self-Sensing Capabilities

by Tatsuya Nakamura
Self-Sensing Artificial Muscles

A novel electric artificial muscle capable of self-sensing and varying its stiffness. Credit: Chen Liu et. al, Advanced Intelligent System

Researchers from Queen Mary University have designed a revolutionary artificial muscle with self-sensing features and variable stiffness that mirrors the characteristics of natural muscles. This pivotal development opens new horizons in soft robotics and healthcare applications, bringing us closer to the integration of humans and machines.

In a research paper published in Advanced Intelligent Systems on July 8, the team from Queen Mary University of London has propelled the field of bionics forward with their invention of an electric variable-stiffness artificial muscle with inbuilt self-sensing abilities. This groundbreaking technology has the power to reshape soft robotics and healthcare applications.

Taking Cues from Nature

The stiffening of muscle contraction is critical not just for boosting strength, but also for enabling fast responses in living organisms. Drawing from nature’s blueprint, the researchers at QMUL’s School of Engineering and Materials Science have fabricated an artificial muscle that smoothly switches between soft and hard states while also showcasing the unique ability to detect forces and deformations.

Dr. Ketao Zhang, a lecturer at Queen Mary and the principal researcher, elaborates on the role of variable stiffness technology in actuator-like artificial muscles. “Endowing robots, particularly those made from pliable materials, with self-sensing abilities marks a crucial leap towards genuine bionic intelligence,” Dr. Zhang remarks.

Features of the New Artificial Muscle

The innovative artificial muscle created by the research team mirrors the flexibility and stretchability of natural muscles, rendering it perfect for incorporation into intricate soft robotic systems and for adjusting to various geometrical shapes. Able to endure over 200% stretching along its length, this striped-structured, flexible actuator demonstrates outstanding durability.

The artificial muscle can swiftly alter its stiffness by manipulating different voltages, achieving continual modulation with a stiffness shift surpassing 30 times. This voltage-driven feature offers a significant edge in response speed over other artificial muscles. Furthermore, this pioneering technology can track its own deformation via resistance changes, eliminating the need for external sensor setups and streamlining control mechanisms while cutting costs.

Creation Process

The creation process for this self-sensing artificial muscle is straightforward and dependable. Carbon nanotubes are blended with liquid silicone using ultrasonic dispersion technology and then uniformly coated using a film applicator to form the thin-layered cathode, which doubles as the sensing part of the artificial muscle. The anode is fashioned directly using a soft metal mesh cut, and the actuation layer is positioned between the cathode and anode. Upon curing of the liquid materials, a complete self-sensing variable-stiffness artificial muscle is created.

Possible Applications

The possible uses of this pliable variable stiffness technology are diverse, extending from soft robotics to healthcare applications. The flawless fusion with the human body allows for helping individuals with disabilities or patients perform necessary daily tasks. The incorporation of the self-sensing artificial muscle in wearable robotic devices could monitor a patient’s activities and provide resistance by adjusting stiffness levels, aiding in the restoration of muscle function during rehabilitation training.

Towards Human-Machine Fusion

“Despite the existing challenges that need to be overcome before these medical robots can be utilized in clinical settings, this research signifies a crucial step forward in human-machine fusion,” emphasizes Dr. Zhang. “It outlines a roadmap for the future evolution of soft and wearable robots.”

This groundbreaking study undertaken by researchers at Queen Mary University of London signifies a significant advancement in the field of bionics. Their invention of self-sensing electric artificial muscles lays the foundation for future progress in soft robotics and medical applications.

Reference: “An Electric Self-Sensing and Variable-Stiffness Artificial Muscle” by Chen Liu, James J. C. Busfield and Ketao Zhang, 8 July 2023, Advanced Intelligent Systems. DOI: 10.1002/aisy.202300131

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Self-Sensing Artificial Muscles

What is the significance of the breakthrough in self-sensing electric artificial muscles?

The breakthrough in self-sensing electric artificial muscles is significant because it brings us closer to human-machine integration and has implications for advancements in soft robotics and medical applications. These muscles mimic natural muscle characteristics and can seamlessly transition between soft and hard states while sensing forces and deformations.

What are the characteristics of the new artificial muscle developed by Queen Mary University researchers?

The new artificial muscle developed by Queen Mary University researchers exhibits flexibility, stretchability, and durability similar to natural muscles. It can withstand over 200% stretch along its length direction and can rapidly adjust its stiffness with a change exceeding 30 times. Additionally, it has the ability to monitor its own deformation through resistance changes, simplifying control mechanisms and reducing costs.

How is the artificial muscle fabricated?

The fabrication process for the self-sensing artificial muscle is simple and reliable. It involves mixing carbon nanotubes with liquid silicone, coating them uniformly to create the thin layered cathode, and using a soft metal mesh cut for the anode. The actuation layer is sandwiched between the cathode and the anode. After curing, a complete self-sensing variable-stiffness artificial muscle is formed.

What are the potential applications of this technology?

The flexible variable stiffness technology has vast potential applications, including soft robotics and medical fields. Integration with the human body enables assisting individuals with disabilities and aiding in rehabilitation training. Wearable robotic devices can monitor activities and adjust stiffness levels to facilitate muscle function restoration. This technology opens up possibilities for soft and wearable robots.

How does this research contribute to the field of bionics?

This research conducted by Queen Mary University marks a significant milestone in the field of bionics. By developing self-sensing electric artificial muscles, it paves the way for advancements in soft robotics and medical applications, offering a blueprint for the future development of soft and wearable robots.

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ScienceFanatic27 July 18, 2023 - 12:26 pm

omg this is amazin!! those researchers at queen mary uni r rockin it! self sensin muscles that r flexible like natural ones? mind = blown. soft robots gonna be even more awesome now. can’t wait to see where this goes!

TechGeek101 July 18, 2023 - 5:33 pm

This breakthrough is major! Electric muscles that sense and adjust their stiffness? That’s next-level innovation right there. Queen Mary Univ is pushing the boundaries of bionics and robotics. Can’t wait for the future of wearable robots! #CuttingEdgeTech

Rob123 July 19, 2023 - 5:45 am

wow this is super cool! artificial muscles that can sense and change their stiffness? that’s like sci-fi stuff come to life. i can see how this can be a game changer for robots and medical stuff.


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