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Originally published June 10 2004

Breakthrough in artificial muscles promises to revolutionize the robotics industry

by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, NaturalNews Editor

How do you a build the musculoskeletal system a humanoid robot? If you're Sony, you use a system of servo motors, gears, metal rods and cables. But that's a poor imitation of the human body where the movement of limbs is dictated by the smooth, coordinated contraction of muscle fibers. Enter the breakthrough: electroactive polymers, also called artificial muscles. Recently unveiled by a scientist in Albuquerque, these artificial muscles contract when exposed to an electric current. Attach one end to the pelvis of a humanoid robot and the other end to the back of its knee and you have a robot that can do leg curls. Strap together enough such fibers, couple them with a smart contact feedback system, and you can teach a robot to walk using its own artificial muscles.

Imagine it: no motors to wear out, no cables to snap, no rods to break: just muscle-like fibers that contract in response to an electric current. It's nothing short of a revolution in robotics. No doubt, the industry will rely heavily on this technology in the years ahead. There's even hope that such fibers might somehow be used in human patients to aid those who have, for one reason or another, lost the use of their limbs.

In a creepy sort of way, these new artificial muscles are now about to be put to the test in an arm wrestling contest with high school students. As part of an upcoming contest hosted by NASA, high school students will go hand-to-hand with an artificial forearm powered by these electroactive polymers. Assuming the robotic arm doesn't rip the limbs off these students (Terminator, anyone?), this P.R. event should serve up some much-needed public interest in robotics.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is holding an arm-wrestling contest in San Diego in March 2005, and Albuquerque scientist and inventor Mohsen Shahinpoor wants to win. He's entering a robotic arm that will be powered by artificial muscles he has invented. NASA is sponsoring the contest that will pit robotic arms fitted with artificial muscles against a human being, probably a teenager. They mimic human muscle movements, and in time, might be used to replace damaged muscles in the human body. They also stand a good chance of revolutionizing the field of robotics. NASA, for instance, is hoping to build a landing rover with legs fitted with artificial muscles.

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