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The newest material used to make artificial muscle can lift more than 100 times more than the meaty stuff you have stuck to your skeleton. It forms a sinewy band that's flexible, dynamic, and can be reused millions of times. No, we're not talking about carbon nanotubes, shape-memory metal, or some hyper-strong liquid alloy. This super-material is ordinary fishing line.
A team of material scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas have just discovered a new way to create powerful artificial muscles—synthetic sinew that forcefully expands and contracts on command—from low-cost, everyday fibers such as fishing line and high-tension sewing thread. In a study published today in the journal Science¸ the researchers described how they're doing it: by twisting the materials into springy and energy-dense coils.
But by far the most impressive aspect of the muscles is their low cost. Because Baughman and his colleagues are using cheaply available resources, pound for pound their muscles are hundreds to thousands of times cheaper than those made from promising but expensive materials like shape-memory alloy or carbon nanotube yarn. This is one reason Baughman expects almost immediate commercialization of this new finding. Although he rattled off dozens of various applications he could imagine for these new muscles, including building facial muscles for humanoid robots and crafting exoskeleton suits—he admits the muscles could find their first practical use in devices like automatically heat-regulated window shutters and ventilation systems, or blended into clothing that reacts to temperature by opening and closing pores in the textile.