Wow, Ann, this is pretty impressive. This type of strength and capability of robots has a lot of potential for application, and really shows how advanced robot functionality is becoming. I could see this being used in artificial limbs or muscles, which would be an amazing breakthrough for the human users. It reminds me of the bionic man television show back in the 1980s (if I may date myself here, ahem...or was it the 70s? sometimes I get confused).
The Army also is working on a futuristic "Iron Man" type exoskeleton suit for soldiers...perhaps this type of thing could have an application there: http://siliconangle.com/blog/2013/10/14/us-army-building-talos-real-life-ironman-armor-to-give-troops-superhuman-strength/
Wow, these are amazing numbers, Ann. They've improved their lifting ability by a factor of 160X, while tripling their stroke length. I would expect the lifting ability to increase when the stroke length is shorter.
Yes, Chuck, this is one of the most amazing materials discoveries I've seen. It's all in the plastic. The relationship you expect between strength (lifting ability) and stroke length might be true, within limits, for other materials such as metals.
One of your best posts yet, this is truly exciting. It means it may soon be possible to create artificial limbs that don't make motor noises and run for a reasonable amount of time. I think all these ideas of making people stronger has serious pitfalls as the whole body has to handle the torque generated, but wind the power back and get 20-30 hours running from a wearable battery and some of the less fortunate amongst us can lead a normal life without turning heads all the time.
etmax, thanks & glad you liked it. Like I said to other commenters, this is currently aimed at machines not biosystems like people. But...it would sure be great for all kinds of medical and therapeutic apps. After some of the stuff I've reported on I sure would not be the one to say what isn't possible.
And thanks for the TV history check, Ann! I guess I could've done that myself. I thought it was the 70s...it would be interesting to do a retrospective now and see what technology the bionic man supposedly had and compare it to technology actually available today. Maybe some would match up!
@Ann & Elizabeth: As soon as I began reading this article I thought of Steve Austin and the intro to the show. "We can make him better, " said Austin's mentor as they were getting ready to repair his broken body. This is so like it, only better because it is real. This has to be truly exciting to anyone who has missing or paralyzed body parts. Thanks for bringing this story to us.
Tool_maker, you're welcome, but...I'm not sure these plastic muscles would be applicable to a biological system; they're designed for a machine. OTOH, that was the point of the Bionic Man, wasn't it, to combine biological systems with electronic/mechanical ones. So maybe these could be adapted to use in humans.
Tool-maker and Ann, I can see both your points. On one hand, I think that's the whole idea behind technology like this--to make whatever it is meant to be applied to "better." On the other, while you're right, Ann, that this is not meant for biological systems, you point out yourself that it could be possible to combine both. Or perhaps this can be applied to a mechanical/electronic system that can be used to make a biological system better. In any case, a fascinating development, and hopefully it will improve either products or people in some way.
Elizabeth, thanks for your comments, those ideas are thought-provoking. There've been so many comments on health/medical/biological applications for this breakthrough that now I wonder if that's possible after all. It may or may not be, depending on the material itself.
You're welcome, Ann. I think anything there is material introduced that offers the possibility of greater strength in a mechanical way, the question would arise whether it can be used for medical purposes in humans. I have done some stories on new technologies in prosthetics and there have been a lot of breakthroughs. Same for technologies like exoskeletons to help people to walk. So if the potential is there, it would be great if it was explored. Still, it's impressive even for its intended use.
This is truly an exciting development and one having a tremendous number of applications. Like any "game-changing" technology, it will be evolutionary in nature. The medical applications to replace damaged muscles alone would be a great breakthrough. Thank you Ann for the posting.
Thanks for your enthusiasm, bobjengr. I look for things like this that are sometimes bleeding edge but within the realm of possibility, and that stimulate thought about how we might design things differently. Glad you enjoyed it.
If their projections are even close to reality it could cause a new technical revolution. With a new, powerful, lightweight option; every electro-mechanical system may be subject to reevaluation. I can't wait to get my hands on this tech.
This is an interesting development that I had not read about previously. The possibility of a benefit to prostehtic systems could be a major breakthrough. The big challenge will be in the taking it to a real product from a laboratory showpiece. How long will it function and how stable is the material are two questions that pop into my mind, as well as the compatability with other materials. Aside from thet, the stored/generated charge aspect will probably add a real challenge to any serious implementation efforts.
William, can you give us more specifics on your concerns about storing and generating a charge? The researchers acknowledge that electromechanical coupling is a challenge they haven't overcome yet. Or were you thinking of something else?
Ann, yes, I am referencing the one statement about them being something like a capacitor. It is already common that not only can some ceramic capacitors produce sounds, but that they can also deliver voltages based on external vibration. These polymer muscle devices produce force when driven by an electrical charge, in all probability they will also produce a charge in response to an external force. Now picture yourself stumbling and falling forward, and catching yourself with your hands. For most people there would be no injury, but quite a bit of force. Now imagine that same amount of force suddenly being applied to a polymer muscle, and the resulting voltage that it would produce. And it is quite likely that these devices will have larger values of capacitance, similar to the current "supercap" devices. So I can see the existance of large voltages not planned for, and large forces inadvertantly released, and a chance at stored charges awaiting the unsuspecting.
None of these would be a "show-stopper", but they could certainly lead to additional challenges to deal with.
Thanks for that, William. Now I see your point, and I think it's an interesting one. I also note that the study on EAPs mentions the drawback of high operating voltage, so I understand why you see a challenge here.
Ann, that is it, exactkly. Just imagine a very low loss capacitor of some medium high capacitance with the stored voltage dependant on mechanicalmdisplacement. And imagine that same capacitor delivering a lot of mechanical displacement when it gets short circuited. I can see a fair amount of excitement for those who would be careless just a bit.
Ann, no, excitement is a very accurate word for thae descriptionj. Not what it's connotation brings to mind, which is typically fun, but more toward the formal definition of driving into motion. But the thing is that polymer muscles are an entirely new thing and they would appear to have a unique set of characteristics unlike anything we are familiar with.
It appears that you have a creative mind and an excellent imagination as well. Sometimes my statements should simply be taken at face value, although looking up the documented meanings of words may be helpful, sinc I not only don't follow fads, I often actively reject them. This includes that lazy fad of incorrect word usage. EEK!, I am beginning to sound like an "intellectual." Not what I intended to convey.
William, I thoroughly enjoy our exchanges, even when we misunderstand each other. Unfortunately, that's easy to do in short written missives like email or this comments format. 100-plus years ago people wrote long, handwritten letters to each other over the period of several months, even years, in which there was more space and time to communicate nuances and details more thoroughly.
And has the word "intellectual" become something bad in some context? I think it's difficult for intelligent people to not be intellectual also. Or perhaps I should ask first: what do *you* mean by the word "intellectual"?
In this particular context the connotation of "intellectual" was a bit negative, as referring to one who is showing off how much they know. Which was by no means my intention this time.
And the stupid windows OS keeps interrupting what I am doing to tell me that it needs to restart the computer to implement some useless update that it decided that I needed. Why should it be that important, when it won't even reveal what all of these updates are. ANY REPUTABLE and honest company would not bring a product to market until it was ready. BUT microsopht chooses to deliver quite buggy products on a routine basis. That tells me a lot about their priorities.
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