Artificial muscles created from everyday materials

Researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW) have developed artificial muscles made from inexpensive materials that have 40 times more flex than a human muscle.

The findings come from a global research project, with contributions from researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES).

The artificial muscles are made from materials vary from carbon nanotubes to fishing line.

To produce the higher levels of flex, the artificial muscles have a sheath that encases a coiled or twisted yarn that contracts when heated and goes back to its original form when cooled.

The surrounding sheath absorbs energy to drive the muscle’s growth and contraction.

These new artificial muscles have been made from natural and man-made fibres, for example, cotton, silk, wool, and nylon.

Unlike their carbon nanotube forebears, these muscles are cheaper and easier to make, due to their reliance on readily available materials. The carbon components is restricted to the polymer coating of the sheath.

According to lead Australian researcher Dr Javad Foroughi, the potential application of these findings goes well beyond medical technologies.

“When we talk artificial muscles, we’re not just talking about a technology as a replacement for muscles in the body. These muscles offer some exciting opportunities for technologies where the artificial muscles intelligently actuate by sensing their environment,” said Foroughi.

Foroughi cited the example of these muscles being woven into comfort-adjusting textiles that could cool the wearer down in summer and warm the wearer in winter, due to their exposure to temperature, moisture – such as sweat – and sunlight.

The researchers for this project comes from a number of institutions across the globe, including the University of Texas at Dallas, Dongua University in China and Hanyang University in South Korea. This highlighted how international collaboration can lead to the development of new materials for a wide range of purposes, said professor Gordon Wallace of ACES.

“The success of our Centre’s work on artificial muscles is the result of our highly skilled researchers being important contributors to a diverse and multidisciplinary team assembled from across the globe. Building these links enables the realisation of exciting new technologies,” said Wallace.