In the past 80 years of technological innovations, artificial muscles have evolved tremendously to transform medical and commercial uses worldwide. By looking at the delicate but powerful control that human muscles have, engineers and scientists have been able to mimic the same responses in artificial muscles in fields like industrial automation, commercial, health tech, and aerospace.
What Are Artificial Muscles?
Artificial muscles, also known as muscle-like actuators, are devices or materials that can mimic natural muscle and change stiffness, contract, expand, or rotate with an external stimulus. The idea is to mimic human muscles as closely as possible, including producing motions like bending or contracting.
Artificial muscles are highly flexible and have wide applications in medicine, robotics, industry, and many other fields. In the same way, our muscles convert different chemicals into energy to operate; artificial muscles use an electric current to facilitate mechanical motion.
What Can Artificial Muscles Be Used For?
Artificial muscles, such as those made by Artimus Robotics, can replace most electric motor actuators to reduce weight and noise while also allowing for precise control. One key example is the use of artificial muscles to create robot arm designs used in service robots.
However, they can also be used in:
Pumps and valves
Compared to electric motors, artificial muscles can be lighter, more robust, cheaper, and more efficient, which are all benefits commercial products are looking to achieve. The soft actuators themselves are also quieter and non-toxic, which makes them ideal for medical use.
Many believe that with the introduction of more flexible materials to create artificial muscles, we’re likely to see more of them used in consumer applications, like smart speakers, and in human-like robotics.
One of the new artificial muscle designs is, in essence, a small, high-tech version of the rubber bands used to propel planes. However, scientists are looking at artificial muscles that will have shape memory to adapt and function as the temperature of the material changes. Another team led by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created fibers that can stretch more than 1,000 percent of their initial size and lift more than 650 times their weight.
Of course, the most exciting use of artificial muscles is within prosthetics. Scientists have managed to create artificial muscle prosthetics that expand and contract like the real thing by mimicking biological muscle but perform even more robustly and better. As these artificial muscles continue to advance and improve, many hope to become part of organ transplants. For example, if artificial muscles can be designed to mimic heart valves, they could be used in heart surgery to fix a damaged organ versus waiting for the right organ transplant. That’s one of the most influential applications for artificial muscles and what has engineers and scientists excited.
Still, the future seems beyond promising for artificial muscles.
Geraldine Orentas is a writer from Happy Writers, Co. in partnership with Stethoscope, one of the leading stethoscope distributors.