If you’ve seen HBO’s Westworld, you have taken a glimpse into the future of soft robotics. The idealized machines, who are, of course, played by real human actors, move with such alacrity it is hard to tell whether they are robots at all. Now, MIT researchers may have taken us a step closer to such a Sci-Fi future by producing a cheaper and more accessible nylon fiber capable of producing muscle-like soft robotics.
According to an MIT news release on November 23, 2016, researchers sought to create artificial muscles with the use of nylon fiber. While nylon fiber muscle research is not exactly new, the researchers found a cost-efficient way to re-purpose nylon fibers, making the construction of artificial muscles more practical than ever. Take a look at how MIT was able to use these fibers to recreate muscle-like behaviors:
“This new fiber could be used in the manufacturing of clothing, biomedical devices, mechanical systems and solar panels, to name a few.”
Soft Robot Nylon Fiber Muscle
Researchers had already experimented with using twisted coils of nylon filament to recreate linear muscle behavior. These early experiments produced “muscles” that could expand and contract with greater range than human muscles. However, this prior innovation is prohibitively expensive to recreate. What is worse, these devices wear out quickly, only able to function regularly up to 1,000 uses. While certainly impressive, reproducing this technology would not have been practical for a market-ready product.
The MIT research team found that a special type of nylon fiber would shrink in length and expand in diameter when exposed to heat. By selectively heating the fiber on certain sides it would bend along desired paths. If you watch the video you will see it behaves much like a real muscle. They accomplished this with fewer, more inexpensive parts. This cost effective innovation will allow further research into the technology than ever before.
Possible Uses in the Future
This new fiber could be used in the manufacturing of clothing, biomedical devices, mechanical systems and solar panels, to name a few. With nearly 100,000 possible uses of this fiber before it degrades, imagine clothes that contour to the wearer’s body.
Aside from obvious applications in robotics, these fibers could also be used to improve certain components in automobile and aircraft manufacturing, according to MIT.