Science

3D printed artificial muscle capable of lifting 1,000 times its own weight

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Small but strong… An artificial muscle developed by Italian researchers, according to their latest research, will be able to lift up to 1,000 times its own weight. The secret of this strength lies in the resin chosen for its manufacture, as well as in the design of the “muscular” construction.

The research of this group from the Italian Institute of Technology is based on a certain type of drive. What is called a “drive” is a device that converts signal and energy into motion. In this case, it is a pneumatic mechanism that can contract and relax like a muscle.

Indeed, nature has provided us with machines that engineers still cannot match in many ways. “While artificial actuators have achieved the efficiency of muscle contraction, the versatility and gracefulness of movement achieved by complex muscle mechanisms remains largely unsurpassed,” the scientists note in their research paper published in the journal Science Robotics.

So they created a device that partially mimics certain muscle characteristics. They called their creation “GeomeTry Drives that Shrink and Extend” or GRACE. They used a special resin that gives the actuator more flexibility and good stability. This has been structured to form a muscle using 3D printing. Another feature: GRACE has been designed as a whole. So there are no parts to assemble. On the other hand, the researchers made this rounded shape extremely accurate, following a very precise mathematical model that they set up in advance. The folds built into the membrane allow for optimal elongation and contraction, providing additional strength and flexibility to the artificial muscle.

8 kg load for an 8-gram muscle

According to the scientists, thanks to this method, they were able to create an 8-gram actuator capable of lifting up to 8 kg of cargo. Or 1000 times its weight, which is a noticeable performance.

The team then continued their experiments by combining several of these drives. To create what looks like a robotic arm, they assembled at least 18 actuators of various sizes. As you can see in the video below, the hand moved quite smoothly. By using the right actuators as needed, the scientists were able to make it perform various types of movements. Thus, the hand can bend the fingers simultaneously or separately, turn the wrist, turn the palm at different angles…

However, researchers are still working on improving the properties of their artificial muscle. They are counting in particular on new resins that may be developed in the future, in particular with better tensile properties, to further increase the capabilities of this type of 3D printing device.

Scientific Robotics.

Video showing the muscles in action (Courtesy of New Scientist):

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