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Mechanical engineers develop new high-performance synthetic muscle expertise

Within the discipline of robotics, researchers are regularly in search of the quickest, strongest, most effective and lowest-cost methods to actuate, or allow, robots to make the actions wanted to hold out their meant features.

The search for brand spanking new and higher actuation applied sciences and ‘tender’ robotics is commonly based mostly on ideas of biomimetics, through which machine elements are designed to imitate the motion of human muscle tissues — and ideally, to outperform them. Regardless of the efficiency of actuators like electrical motors and hydraulic pistons, their inflexible type limits how they are often deployed. As robots transition to extra organic varieties and as individuals ask for extra biomimetic prostheses, actuators have to evolve.

Affiliate professor (and alum) Michael Shafer and professor Heidi Feigenbaum of Northern Arizona College’s Division of Mechanical Engineering, together with graduate pupil researcher Diego Higueras-Ruiz, revealed a paper in Science Robotics presenting a brand new, high-performance synthetic muscle expertise they developed in NAU’s Dynamic Lively Techniques Laboratory. The paper, titled “Cavatappi synthetic muscle tissues from drawing, twisting, and coiling polymer tubes,” particulars how the brand new expertise allows extra human-like movement attributable to its flexibility and flexibility, however outperforms human skeletal muscle in a number of metrics.

“We name these new linear actuators cavatappi synthetic muscle tissues based mostly on their resemblance to the Italian pasta,” Shafer mentioned.

Due to their coiled, or helical, construction, the actuators can generate extra energy, making them a great expertise for bioengineering and robotics functions. Within the group’s preliminary work, they demonstrated that cavatappi synthetic muscle tissues exhibit particular work and energy metrics ten and 5 occasions larger than human skeletal muscle tissues, respectively, and as they proceed growth, they anticipate to provide even larger ranges of efficiency.

“The cavatappi synthetic muscle tissues are based mostly on twisted polymer actuators (TPAs), which have been fairly revolutionary after they first got here out as a result of they have been highly effective, light-weight and low-cost. However they have been very inefficient and sluggish to actuate since you needed to warmth and funky them. Moreover, their effectivity is simply about two %,” Shafer mentioned. “For the cavatappi, we get round this by utilizing pressurized fluid to actuate, so we expect these units are way more prone to be adopted. These units reply about as quick as we will pump the fluid. The massive benefit is their effectivity. We now have demonstrated contractile effectivity of as much as about 45 %, which is a really excessive quantity within the discipline of soppy actuation.”

The engineers assume this expertise may very well be utilized in tender robotics functions, standard robotic actuators (for instance, for strolling robots), and even probably in assistive applied sciences like exoskeletons or prostheses.

“We anticipate that future work will embrace the usage of cavatappi synthetic muscle tissues in lots of functions attributable to their simplicity, low-cost, light-weight, flexibility, effectivity and pressure power restoration properties, amongst different advantages,” Shafer mentioned.

Expertise is offered for licensing, partnering alternatives.

Working with the NAU Improvements group, the inventors have taken steps to guard their mental property. The expertise has entered the safety and early commercialization stage and is offered for licensing and partnering alternatives. For extra info, please contact NAU Improvements.

Shafer joined NAU in 2013. His different analysis pursuits are associated to power harvesting, wildlife telemetry methods and unmanned aerial methods. Feigenbaum joined NAU in 2007, and her different analysis curiosity embrace ratcheting in metals and sensible supplies. The graduate pupil on this challenge, Diego Higueras-Ruiz, obtained his MS in Mechanical Engineering from NAU in 2018 and will likely be finishing his PhD in Bioengineering in Fall 2021. This work has been supported by a grant from NAU’s Analysis and Growth Preliminary Research program.

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