UT Dallas researchers advance ‘artificial muscles’ technology

These actuating fibers are called ‘artificial muscles’ because they mimic the fiber-like form-factor of natural muscles. | File photo
University of Texas Dallas researchers, in collaboration with researchers from Australia’s University of Wollongong, recently published a perspective article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on their recent advances in twisted fibers made from modern materials.
 
“We call these actuating fibers ‘artificial muscles’ because they mimic the fiber-like form-factor of natural muscles,” NanoTech Institute associate research professor Carter Haines, co-lead author of the PNAS article, said. “While the name evokes the idea of humanoid robots, we are very excited about their potential use for other practical applications, such as in next-generation intelligent textiles.”
 
Researchers at UT Dallas have already applied ancient spinning techniques to new materials to create fibers that contract and coil when exposed to heat. The latest advance forms those coils into spirals.
 
“The advantage to the spiral shape is that now our muscle can contract into a flat state, expand out in the other direction, and return to its original length, all without getting stuck on itself,”  research associate Na Li said. “Our experiments to date have been proof-of-concept, but have already shown that we can use heating and cooling to drive this back-and-forth motion across a giant range. This type of telescoping actuator can produce over an 8,600 percent change in length, compared to around 70 percent for our previous coils.”

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