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Strain-programmable fiber-based artificial muscle

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Science  12 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6449, pp. 145-150
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw2502

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Getting the most out of muscles

Materials that convert electrical, chemical, or thermal energy into a shape change can be used to form artificial muscles. Such materials include bimetallic strips or host-guest materials or coiled fibers or yarns (see the Perspective by Tawfick and Tang). Kanik et al. developed a polymer bimorph structure from an elastomer and a semicrystalline polymer where the difference in thermal expansion enabled thermally actuated artificial muscles. Iterative cold stretching of clad fibers could be used to tailor the dimensions and mechanical response, making it simple to produce hundreds of meters of coiled fibers. Mu et al. describe carbon nanotube yarns in which the volume-changing material is placed as a sheath outside the twisted or coiled fiber. This configuration can double the work capacity of tensile muscles. Yuan et al. produced polymer fiber torsional actuators with the ability to store energy that could be recovered on heating. Twisting mechanical deformation was applied to the fibers above the glass transition temperature and then stored via rapid quenching.

Science, this issue p. 145, p. 150, p. 155; see also p. 125

Abstract

Artificial muscles may accelerate the development of robotics, haptics, and prosthetics. Although advances in polymer-based actuators have delivered unprecedented strengths, producing these devices at scale with tunable dimensions remains a challenge. We applied a high-throughput iterative fiber-drawing technique to create strain-programmable artificial muscles with dimensions spanning three orders of magnitude. These fiber-based actuators are thermally and optically controllable, can lift more than 650 times their own weight, and withstand strains of >1000%. Integration of conductive nanowire meshes within these fiber-based muscles offers piezoresistive strain feedback and demonstrates long-term resilience across >105 deformation cycles. The scalable dimensions of these fiber-based actuators and their strength and responsiveness may extend their impact from engineering fields to biomedical applications.

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