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3D Printed Soft Muscle Could Mean Lifelike Robots
Posted on September 27th, 2017 by Ken Klapproth in New Materials & Applications
Researchers at Columbia Engineering have further narrowed the gap between science-fiction and reality by 3D printing muscle.
There’s typically more than a slight difference between Hollywood portrayals and reality – especially when it comes to robots. The advent of computer generated imagery (CGI) has taken it to a new level, creating worlds of intricate detail that seemingly and believably interact with human character costars. Where the limitations of physics required bulky compressors, actuators, and high voltage motors to give robots movement, computer animation enabled fictitious characters to become lifelike. Robots on the silver screen look nothing like those that assemble our automobiles.
An untethered, humanoid looking robot could now be closer to reality based on the work of the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia Engineering led by Hod Lipson, professor of mechanical engineering. Using additive manufacturing techniques, the team was able to produce synthetic soft muscle tissue which can be artificially activated using thin resistive wire and low power. This newly created material possesses a strain density 15 times larger than natural muscle, and is capable of lifting 1000 times its own weight. Because it is flexible, actuators made using the material can mimic natural motion such as grasping and manipulation.
“We’ve been making great strides toward making robots minds, but robot bodies are still primitive,” said Hod Lipson. “This is a big piece of the puzzle and, like biology, the new actuator can be shaped and reshaped a thousand ways. We’ve overcome one of the final barriers to making lifelike robots.”
It’s remarkable to think where technology such as this can lead. Beyond creating human appearing assistants as our companions, far more immediate and beneficial applications come to mind. Artificial limbs that look and act real can give recipients the fine dexterity needed for day to day activities like picking up utensils or swiping on smartphones. Now before you have fears of synthetic muscle leading to realization of “the Terminator”, keep in mind the cybernetic system will still need to be wrapped in human tissue in order for time travel to be possible. We’re still a few years off.
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All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.
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