Scientists have created what may become the future of prosthetics, a robot “muscle” that can throw something 50 times its own weight five times its length in a surprisingly fast 60 milliseconds. While it’s easy to envision what this means for the future, a Hollywood image of robot arms crushing steel bars with ease comes quickly to mind, don’t fear just yet, the new muscle is currently the size of a microchip.
“We’ve created a micro-bimorph dual coil that functions as a powerful torsional muscle, driven thermally or electro-thermally by the phase transition of vanadium dioxide,” said Junqiao Wu, the project’s lead scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (Berkeley Labs).
The strength of the new robotic muscle comes from the special property that vanadium dioxide possesses. VO2 changes physical state when heated or cooled. The muscle, coincidentally in the shape of a V, is heated causing one dimension to contract while the other two dimensions expand, creating a torsion spring. Think catapult, but on a much smaller scale.