Will strong, fast-switching artificial muscle be feasible?

In the American action movie “Pacific Rim”, giant robots called “Jaegers” fight unknown monsters to save mankind. These robots are equipped with artificial muscle tissues that mimic real living bodies and defeat monsters with power and speed. Recently, research is underway to equip real robots with artificial muscle groups like those shown in the movie. However, the potent power and high speed of artificial muscular tissues cannot be actualized because the mechanical strength (power) and conductivity (speed) of the polymer electrolyte – the key materials driving the actuator – have contradictory characteristics.

A POSTECH research team led by Professor Moon Jeong Park, Professor Chang Yun Son and Research Professor Rui -Yang Wang from the Department of Chemistry has developed a new concept of polymer electrolyte with different functional groups located at a distance of 2Å. This polymer electrolyte is capable of both ionic interactions and hydrogen bonds, thus opening up the possibility of resolving these contradictions. The results of this study were recently published in the international academic journal Superior Supplies.

Artificial muscle tissues are used to make the robots move their limbs naturally like the can humans. To drive these artificial muscle tissues, an actuator that exhibits mechanical transformation under low voltage conditions is needed. However, due to the nature of the polymer electrolyte used in the actuator, force and speed cannot be achieved simultaneously as increasing muscle drive slows switching speed and increasing speed reduces drive.

To overcome the limitations presented so far, research has introduced the innovative concept of bifunctional polymer. By forming a one-dimensional ion channel several nanometers in mass inside the polymer matrix, which is hard as glass, a superionic polymer electrolyte with both high ionic conductivity and high mechanical strength was obtained.

The results of this study have the potential to create improvements in soft robotics and wearable motor technology as they can be applied to the development of unprecedented artificial muscle mass which connects a portable battery (1.5V), produces a fast switching of several milliseconds (thousandths of a second), and a large force. Additionally, these results should be applied in next-generation semiconductor electrochemical devices and highly stable lithium metal batteries.

This study was conducted with the support of Samsung Science and Technology Basis.

ActuatorElectrical ConductivityElectrolyteUnited StatesMuscleIonic OrderPacific RimPolymer

2022 2022

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