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Artificial Muscles from Fishing Line and Sewing Thread

Science  21 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6173, pp. 868-872
DOI: 10.1126/science.1246906

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Toward an Artificial Muscle

In designing materials for artificial muscles, the goals are to find those that will combine high strokes, high efficiency, long cycle life, low hysteresis, and low cost. Now, Haines et al. (p. 868; see the Perspective by Yuan and Poulin) show that this is possible. Twisting high-strength, readily available polymer fibers, such as those used for fishing lines or sewing thread, to the point where they coil up, allowed construction of highly efficient actuators that could be triggered by a number of stimuli.

Abstract

The high cost of powerful, large-stroke, high-stress artificial muscles has combined with performance limitations such as low cycle life, hysteresis, and low efficiency to restrict applications. We demonstrated that inexpensive high-strength polymer fibers used for fishing line and sewing thread can be easily transformed by twist insertion to provide fast, scalable, nonhysteretic, long-life tensile and torsional muscles. Extreme twisting produces coiled muscles that can contract by 49%, lift loads over 100 times heavier than can human muscle of the same length and weight, and generate 5.3 kilowatts of mechanical work per kilogram of muscle weight, similar to that produced by a jet engine. Woven textiles that change porosity in response to temperature and actuating window shutters that could help conserve energy were also demonstrated. Large-stroke tensile actuation was theoretically and experimentally shown to result from torsional actuation.

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