Robot muscles

Simply substitute lost human body parts out of the 3D printer – how far are we away from this? Things that seemed to be scenes out of a science-fiction movie suddenly are real – getting body part substitutions out of a 3D printer! It has been around for a while now: last year for example an Australian girl was announced to get one of the world’s first 3D-printed ears. Body part substitutions out of the 3D printer could have a huge beneficial impact, especially for patients that lost body parts in accidents or were born without it. The list of 3D printed body part substitutes since then has continued growing with bones out of the 3D printer for example. But what are the limitations of 3D printing? It has to be awaited. At the moment 3D printing is still on the fore march with the latest success of printing a muscle for the use in soft robotics!

Bridging the gaps between human and machine – imitation of biological movement.

(Picture via Pixabay by Geralt)


The printed muscle

It seems that “The Terminator” series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger just got a little closer to reality. The Columbia University School of Engineering in New York introduced now an artificial muscle that can increase up to >900% in its volume and is even 3 times stronger than a natural muscle, with lifting weight that is more than a thousand times bigger than its own! This newest achievement surely would have left young Arnold Schwarzenegger jealous in the “Terminator” movies. The research group around the professor of mechanical engineering Hod Lipson generated for the first time a 3D-printable synthetic soft muscle that does not need an outer high energy source as previous artificial muscles did. The breakthrough was published in Nature Communications last month. The muscle consists of a silicon matrix with bubble-shaped pores in which ethanol can be distributed. The “muscle” then gets heated and the ethanol starts boiling at 78.4˚C which heightens the inside pressure and leads to the expansion of the silicon matrix. The initial intention for the development of the silicon muscles was for soft robots to mimic natural biological movement. In little robot models like the “worm-robot” it has been shown that the new muscle can push things, pull, lift weights and bend. Even more interestingly, this revolutionary muscle maybe could be applied to higher bio-medical needs one day. Especially as the used material for the soft robotic muscle is supposed to be low in cost, environmentally friendly, and easy to produce. This makes it not only medically but also economically interesting. It has to be awaited when and if we can use 3D printed muscles in a biological use in the future.