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Scientists Make Artificial Muscles

They're 100 times stronger than human muscles and could be used in robots, researchers say
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Fishing line and sewing thread can create powerful artificial muscles that could be used to help disabled people or to build incredibly strong robots, a new study says.

Compared to human muscle of the same weight and length, the artificial muscles can lift 100 times more weight and make 100 times more mechanical power, the international team of researchers claimed.

The artificial muscles -- which are created by twisting and coiling high-strength polymer fishing line and thread -- generate 7.1 horsepower per kilogram. That's about the same mechanical power as a jet engine, according to the study published Feb. 21 in the journal Science.

Temperature changes power the muscles and these changes can be produced a number of ways: electrically, by the absorption of light or by the chemical reaction of fuels, the scientists said.

"The application opportunities for these polymer muscles are vast," study corresponding author Ray Baughman, chair in chemistry at the University of Texas at Dallas and director of the NanoTech Institute, said in a university news release.

"Today's most advanced humanoid robots, [artificial] limbs and wearable exoskeletons are limited by motors and hydraulic systems, whose size and weight restrict dexterity...," among other things, he said.

Along with providing incredible strength in devices such as robots and exoskeletons, these artificial muscles could be used to improve the fine-movement capabilities of minimally invasive robotic microsurgery, the researchers said. In addition, they potentially could be used to power miniature "laboratories on a chip" and to relay the sense of touch from sensors on a robotic hand to a human hand.

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