Using motors and actuators for robot locomotion may become obsolete sometime in the near future, as engineers have been developing new bio-inspired designs that can actuate limbs through various stimuli. The idea behind using artificial muscles is to get rid of the bulky and heavy hardware for more efficient locomotion. That’s what engineers at the University of Hong Kong think anyway when they designed their novel actuating material.
In a recent paper submitted to Science Robotics, the engineers designed their electromechanical actuators using nickel hydroxide-oxyhydroxide, which can be activated using several different methods, including visible light, electricity, heat and even humidity changes. The researchers state that although actuation can be achieved using any one of those methods, light stimulation is preferable as it provides a type of wireless operation for robots.
When activated by those stimuli, the electromechanical actuators react nearly instantly with fast deformation of the limbs, which can exert a force 3,000-times its own weight and since it can be activated using electricity, it can already be incorporated into existing robotics technology. What’s more, the fabrication process only involves an electrodeposition process, it can be manufactured in just three hours, and since the base material is comprised of nickel, it can be done cheaply.
The engineers figure their new actuating limbs can be used for a myriad of different applications, with the apparent being rescue and surveillance robots for hard to reach areas both on land and water. By scaling up the fabrication method, the artificial muscles can be comparable to humans and other mammals, making them useful for human and medical assistive devices.