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This Polymer Film Flexes Like an Artificial Muscle

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posted on Jan, 12 2013 @ 10:12 PM

This polymer film is expanding and contracting like a muscle, and looks pretty alive doing it, but the energy is coming from water vapor, not black magic. Go figure.

Researchers at MIT hope to use the material's continuous motion to generate electricity for nanoelectronic devices, like tiny sensors, or as muscles in robots.

The material is made of two interlocking polymers. One lends structure, while the other swells like a sponge as it absorbs water. In a humid environment, water droplets on a surface under the material cause the film to begin curling. As it moves, air dries the film making it stretch and flip, which exposes it to the moist surface again.

Drawing power from humidity is advantageous because water vapor is ubiquitous and relatively easy to control in most environments, at least compared to pH or temperature which have been used in similar experiments.

To generate electricity, the novel film would be combined with a special material that converts the mechanical energy in its movement to electric charge.

It's not a coincidence that the film was developed at MIT's Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. The material, which is very early in development, shows possibilities for biomedical work like targeted drug delivery or physiological monitoring.

This material changes its shape after absorbing tiny amounts of evaporated water, allowing it to repeatedly curl up and down. Harnessing this continuous motion could drive robotic limbs or generate enough electricity to power micro- and nanoelectronic devices.

The film is made from an interlocking network of two different polymers. One of the polymers, polypyrrole, forms a hard but flexible matrix that provides structural support. The other polymer, polyol-borate, is a soft gel that swells when it absorbs water.

Such films could act as either actuators (a type of motor) or generators. As an actuator, the material can be surprisingly powerful: The researchers demonstrated that a 25-milligram film can lift a load of glass slides 380 times its own weight, or transport a load of silver wires 10 times its own weight, by working as a potent water-powered "mini tractor." Using only water as an energy source, this film could replace the electricity-powered actuators now used to control small robotic limbs.

posted on Jan, 12 2013 @ 10:22 PM
So many little things we see and forget about. This is interesting to me because I know one day I'll see something elaborate and think "When the hell did we start making these things, and HOW?"

50 years time someone will say "Yeah i heard they made this stuff from the critters that were attracted to the nasa tether." or something, forgetting that right here is the idea in primitive form.

Looks pretty useless to an observer. Mundane things don't need floppy wiggly squares of plastic.

But when it's put to use in something ingenious then it will be a miracle.

I hope I get to see what happens in terms of all the proof of concept things of today. They're next years childrens toys but not before they are tomorrows innovation.

posted on Jan, 12 2013 @ 10:29 PM
reply to post by winofiend

You are absolutely right. My first thought was applying this to prosthetic devices.

posted on Jan, 13 2013 @ 04:06 AM
reply to post by N3k9Ni

I like it!
This is a big discovery! (S and F.)

This is just the beginning of bigger things to come.

posted on Jan, 13 2013 @ 09:39 AM
Something tells me this is the precursor to the material that will be used on the sexbots! Neat stuff, anyhow. I like the bit about just leeching water from the atmosphere. Strange!

posted on Jan, 13 2013 @ 10:31 AM
So basically robots in the future will drink water to move their artificial muscles. ;-p

posted on Jan, 15 2013 @ 05:24 AM
what would be awesome if they could change it around to flex to a neural electrical signal
my thought is that maybe muscles inside of limbs could be replaced! in effect creating the perfect super person
since there would be no nerves to send pain to the brain they could use them all day without wearing down.

just a thought what do you think ?

posted on Jan, 15 2013 @ 05:27 AM
reply to post by MrDarkPhoenix

before you start saying what about bending outwards and inwards and other bends, well the muscles could be built in layers and have each layer connected to a set of neural receptors so the movement and bends could feel fully normal to a person

in effect i think this would increase a person strength many folds then a normal human muscle any experts can to give input ?
edit on 15-1-2013 by MrDarkPhoenix because: (no reason given)

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