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Brawn and Brains in Robots

Picture of inked wrists.Whether you prefer your robots with brawn or brains you are in luck.

In New Scientist (12 August 2006) Dan Cho describes the development of machine muscle aimed at enabling smoother moving robots, producing better prosthetic limbs and even powering artificial organs.

Human muscle relies on a biochemical ballet of sliding actin and myosin filaments. Developing muscle technology resembles human muscle but is powered differently. In some respects, artificial muscle improves on biological muscle: some polymers can extend further and react faster. However, artificial muscle can not regenerate and will eventually wear out.

The contenders for artificial muscle are:

  • Conducting polymer: in response to voltage, ions move into a polymer causing it to swell.
  • Dielectric elastomers: a polymer is sandwiched between layers of film that squeeze together when charged.
  • Polymer metal composites: this time the polymer is squeezed by layers of metal.

I really did mean brains. Japanese M-TRAN has 20 modules each with its own "brain". The robot can lose any of its body parts without breaking down.


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