Artificial muscle technology could revolutionize robotics, prosthetics

It's amazing how quickly technology can change. What seemed impossible just a few years ago is now reality. Robots are about to reach the next level, flexing their muscles like never before.

It may not seem like much in this basement lab, but with a jolt of electricity, a team is creating the muscle of the future. 

"It's actually one of the closest analogs to natural muscle," says University of Colorado Boulder PhD student Shane Mitchell. "It almost performs like natural muscle."

It's delicate enough to pick up a raspberry without bursting it, and an egg without breaking it. Yet strong enough to lift a gallon of water.

"We were inspired to create this artificial muscle from the world we live in," says Tim Morrissey, who manages the team at the Keplinger Research Group lab. The team develop HASEL, an artificial soft muscle that could enhance robot technology, making them better able to help people who need it.

"The robot needs to come into your home and work around you," Morrisey says. "And so if the robot is going to go up stairs it's going to need muscles to do that."

HASEL muscle technology could also lead to advanced prosthetics.

Morrisey says, "If you make a robot that has you know a skeleton frame with a soft bicep on it that moves up and down, you can do the same thing with a prosthetic."

While other artificial muscles can be bulky, or unable to withstand electric pulses,  if there's an electric surge, HASEL can even repair itself. And with a rubber shell, electrodes and liquid inside, can you believe it costs only about 10 cents to make. 

"Originally we used canola oil actually just from the local grocery store," Mitchell says.

 It's an exciting innovation, but to this team, it's much more.

"We want to do something new in the scientific community," Mitchell says. "But it's really no help if it just stays in the lab. So we want to bring our technology to the community." 

Creating the next generation of robot technology, by adding a more natural touch.

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