Bringing us one step closer to the robo-world of the future, a MacGyver-esque team of scientists has somehow taken some coiled fishing line and some sewing thread, and created... artificial muscles. Like, mega-strong artificial muscles. It's estimated that one of these fake muscles, made from a bundle of only 100 strands of fishing wire, could actually lift 1,600 pounds — roughly 100 times as much as our measly human muscles. In fact, the amount of power they can generate is more or less the same as a jet engine. Which is, depending on how you look at it, either really cool or deeply, deeply terrifying.
Until now, artificial muscles — a term which actually just means any type of material that contracts, expands or rotates in response to a stimulus — have been extremely expensive, and difficult, to make. One method, for example, uses yarns that are spun from special (and thus, ridiculously pricey) carbon fibers called nanotubes; another involves using metals with memory alloys that go back to their original shape when heated — but that can also cost about $5000 per kilogram. Clearly, readily-available thread and fishing wire are major game-changers.
The team, led by Ray Baughman at the University of Texas at Dallas, found they could make polymer muscles that could lift a jaw-dropping 725 kilograms — using materials that only cost $5 per kilogram. They way they discovered this? They saw that, by twisting together fishing lines, they could make a muscle that could lift an amazing 7.2 kilograms. And, when they twisted threads and plastic fibers into yarns, and then applied heat, the yarns would contract by a whopping 50 percent — and then go back to their original size when cooled again. (To put that into perspective, human muscles actually only contract by 20 percent.) Put the two together and, eureka.
Obviously, the possibility of relatively cheap, easy to design, and really powerful artificial muscles has some pretty huge implications. "Present humanoid robots
or exoskeletons or prosthetic limbs are primitive, mechanically,"
Baughman said to Live Science, because they only work via hydraulics and motors. But it goes further than that: Yes, it's creepy/cool humanoid robots (such as the ones Google acquired not too long ago), but it's also weather-adjusting clothes, military exoskeletons and even windows that close when it's too cold. All these technologies could hypothetically start moving forward a lot more quickly now.