Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scientists Develop New Material For Robot Muscles

A group of researchers at the University of Texas have made a breakthrough in their quest to find a stronger, more effective material for use in making artificial muscles for robots. They’ve found a way to create tangled nanotube ribbons that are, relative to weight, stronger than steel and stiffer than diamond.

The ribbons have the remarkable ability to expand in width by 220% when a voltage is applied. When the voltage is removed, the ribbons return to their normal state. The shift in state occurs over mere milliseconds. Additionally, the nanotube ribbons retain their properties in an extreme range of temperature: between -196 °C and 1538 °C.

The scientists construct the nanotube ribbons into an aerogel, which contains primarily air. A cubic centimeter of the stuff weighs just 1.5 milligrams; one gram could cover a space of 30 square meters. Researchers are still experimenting with ribbon lengths. So far, the team has produced ribbons that are 1/50th of a millimeter thick, 16 centimeters wide and several meters long. Larger sheets are in the works.

Besides serving as material for artificial muscles, the nanotube ribbons could be used to create sturdy, lightweight structures in space.

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