February 28, 2014
Robot Muscles: Real Strong For Real Cheap
What was your favorite scene from the Robocop movie? Not the remake that just came out. The original. For me, it was that scene where you first really see him. Sure, you see Robocop walking around the police station, shooting his machine pistol at a target, taking the keys to the squad car to go out on patrol, but that was all just build up. No, my favorite scene is when the robber is holding up the convenient store, demanding the older man open the safe while he threatens the man’s wife with his gun. Then the music stars playing. The doors open. Robocop. The man shoots him, which does nothing, and Robocop walks right up to him, bullets bouncing off his chassis, grabs the barrel of the gun with his hand and bends it so the gun no longer fires. I love it. As a kid, that stuck out to me and as an adult, watching it again, it is just incredible. The movie is as old as I am, and it is still great, and as technology continues to improve, soon we may one day see the things we saw in Robocop no longer as science fiction, but science fact.
For starters, lets look at that robotic strength of his. As cybernetics technology advances, a major concern regarding it is price. Until now, synthetic muscles were incredibly expensive to produce, but this all changed as Ray Baughman, director of the NanoTech Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas, a man who has devoted a large portion of his career to the development of artificial muscles, came across the idea of using a rather inexpensive material for the construction: fishing line. No joke, the same fishing line you can buy at a bait shop could be used in the creation of artificial muscles. But how powerful would they be? Preliminary tests have shown that these wired muscles can be as much as 100 times stronger than natural muscles of the same size, yet still only cost as little as five dollars to produce. The trick to it is twist insertion. One end of a high-strength polymer fiber (fishing line) is held in place while the other end is weighted and twisted up. When this is done, the cord starts coiling over on itself, which creates an ordered series of stacking loops. Try it out for yourself. Take a bit of yarn, your shoelace, a rubber-band or whatever and just start twisting it up until you cannot twist it anymore. It’s the same thing. Then, the artificial muscles can be triggered to retract, just like the muscles in our bodies do. Heat is the normal stimuli. In a test, using silver-coated nylon sewing thread, they passed electricity through it, which generated the heat needed to retract the muscle. Even this was enough to lift a 100g weight five times per second with no real damage or determination shown in the artificial muscles. This new discovery/process could revolutionize robotics as we know them, and one day this very technology could be a part of what transforms us into something more than human.
Superhuman strength. Can you imagine the possibilities? Back when my generation was kids, we could have never guessed that this could someday be a reality within our lifetimes. It goes without saying that I am incredibly excited.
Image Credit: Thinkstock