In the past, prosthetic limbs and other robotic materials were made rigid by bulky pumps, valves, and tubes, while some muscle alternatives were flexible but couldn’t withstand electric pulses. (Read: “Twisting Everyday Fibers Could Make ‘Smart Clothes’ a Reality“)
But CU Boulder’s Keplinger Research Group has created a versatile muscle that might be able to heal itself. The mechanism is as flexible as an octopus, as strong as an elephant, and as fast as a hummingbird. With this technology, the team is hoping to eventually engineer full-body robots that can gracefully mimic human movement. (Read: “Human-Pig Hybrid Created in the Lab—Here Are the Facts“)
“We have basically taken the best of those two approaches and merged them into a new technology,” says senior author Christoph Keplinger, a mechanical engineering professor at CU Boulder.
The movement-creating device is called a “hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic” actuator. That’s a HASEL (pronounced “hey-zuhl”) actuator or muscle, for short. The pump-free devices are pouches made of the same inexpensive plastic that makes up potato chip bags and filled with an electrically insulated liquid, similar to canola oil. The devices change shape when voltage is run through them, and the malleable oil gives the mechanism the potential to self-heal.
“You can control it with only two wires,” Science paper lead author Eric Acome says, referring to the wires used to power the electrodes. “We don’t need to have some sort of external equipment.”
Read More at National Geographic