Artificial protein muscles can help overcome the current obstacles faced in performance, mobility, and dexterity with robotics in healthcare.
Until now, artificial muscles were limited to plastic, nylon and other ‘artificial’ materials. These muscles came with a big set of drawbacks that limited the progression of the technology. However, that is set to change. Researchers are intensively developing artificial muscles that are entirely made of natural proteins. These new artificial muscles can see extensive use in implants, prosthetics and robotics in healthcare. They will help remove the main hurdle, i.e., the rigidity that is currently limiting the mobility of the robots. Artificial muscles are stronger, less costly and more efficient.
Artificial muscles are devices that can mimic human functions. They expand, contract and rotate when an external force is applied to them. These actions can also be combined to create different types of motions further. For example, to bend an artificial muscle, one end of the muscle can be expanded while the other can be contracted.
Artificial muscles can be categorized into three main types. They are:
Electric Field Actuation
As the name suggests, the actuation actions are carried out by applying the corresponding methods. For instance, electric field actuation is carried out by applying electric fields, while pneumatic actuation uses a special pneumatic bladder with air pressurized to a certain pressure, and thermal actuation uses heat.
One of the ways to measure the effectiveness of artificial muscles with robotics in healthcare is to compare their performance with natural muscles. There is no direct way to make this comparison. However, there are some categories in which the comparison can be carried out. They are:
A research study conducted in 2014 found out that the strongest artificial muscle provided a hundred times more power than a natural muscle having an equivalent length of fibers.
Recent progress has demonstrated artificial muscles with higher power output, increased dexterity, behavior that can be programmed and reconfigured, and enhanced maneuverability.
The engineers at Northern Arizona University have developed a new high-performance artificial muscle technology. The actuators are called ‘Cavatappi artificial muscles’ as they resemble Italian pasta. They provide more human-like motion and improve performance in many areas. Studies have shown the artificial muscles to be five and ten times stronger than natural muscles in power and work criteria. The performance is expected to increase as the technology continues to improve.
Artificial muscles can become a disruptive technology for robotics in healthcare. They are expected to become widespread due to their low costs, enhanced flexibility, simplicity, and increased and efficient properties. Artificial muscles could become commonplace very soon as the possibilities with the technology are endless.
Naveen is the Founder and CEO of Allerin, a software solutions provider that delivers innovative and agile solutions that enable to automate, inspire and impress. He is a seasoned professional with more than 20 years of experience, with extensive experience in customizing open source products for cost optimizations of large scale IT deployment. He is currently working on Internet of Things solutions with Big Data Analytics. Naveen completed his programming qualifications in various Indian institutes.