The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Researchers develop artificial muscles for robots and prostheses

Zurich researchers have improved artificial muscles for robots. They require a lower electrical voltage than previous models, as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) wrote in a press release on Tuesday.

According to the university, this makes them easy to touch and waterproof.

In principle, artificial muscles work like natural muscles: They contract when an electrical impulse is applied. However, unlike their natural counterparts, artificial muscles do not consist of cells and fibers, but of a bag filled with oil.

There are electrodes on the bag that generate opposing charges when a high voltage is applied. They then push the oil into an electrode-free area of the bag. This causes the bag to contract like a biological muscle.

Robots, prostheses and wearables

According to ETH Zurich, previous models required a voltage of six to ten thousand volts. By way of comparison, Swiss sockets supply electricity at a voltage of 230 volts. In order to achieve this voltage, the previous artificial muscles had to be connected to large, heavy voltage amplifiers, as ETH Zurich wrote. They also did not work in water and were not entirely safe for humans.

The artificial muscle presented by ETH researchers in the journal "Science Advances" is powered by a small, battery-operated power supply unit with 900 volts. The battery and power supply unit together weigh just 15 grams. The researchers see potential applications in new types of robots, prostheses or wearables, i.e. technologies worn on the body.

The artificial muscle owes its improved capabilities to a new sheath structure. In contrast to previous artificial muscles, the electrodes in the newly developed muscles are not located on the outside of the sheath, explained the ETH. Instead, the sheath consists of different layers. The researchers also used a material that can store relatively high amounts of electrical energy.

©Keystone/SDA

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