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Helping hands

New advances in artificial muscles could lead to very strong yet very light robots.

According to research, that could eventually result in robots with human-like grips; tiny actuators, or devices that transform energy and signals into movement, could lift up to 1000 times their own weight.

At the Italian Institute of Technology, Corrado De Pascali and his colleagues have produced actuator-based, 3D-printed artificial muscles that use inflation to transform energy into movement. According to De Pascali, "We began with the conventional artificial muscle and built a new class of artificial muscles consisting of a single monolithic component."

The flexible resin used to 3D print the actuator membranes, also known as GeometRy-based Actuators that Contract and Elongate (GRACE), allows them to stretch and contract like human muscles. As a result, some actuators may be able to lift relatively heavy objects, depending on the material used to manufacture the actuator and the thickness of the material. For example, when put to the test, one 8-gram actuator successfully lifted 8 kilograms!

Additionally, the actuators can be assembled to resemble actual muscles and body components. For example, the researchers connected eighteen actuators of various sizes to create a robotic hand with a wrist. The hand could rotate at the wrist and bend its fingers by applying pressure to the various actuator membranes.



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