Electroactive polymers that bend, stretch and shrink like human muscles when an electric current passes through them is what’s being engineered by a science research team at NASA’s JPL. The hope is that these artificial muscles would be able to work in conjunction with artificial intelligence to drive robotic arms.
The NASA team is being led by Senior Research Scientist Yoseph Bar-Cohen who in order to raise awareness of the field, promoted an arm-wrestling challenge to the international scientific and engineering communities in 1999. Bar-Cohen stated “I chose to focus on arm-wrestling with humans in order to have our muscles as a basis for comparing performance and capability. Success in this will advance the field of medicine, including prostheses that can be very effective. We may soon see artificial muscles replace damaged human muscles.”
Bionic limbs and bionic people with artificial muscles – as well as robots that look and operate like real animals and humans—are not beyond his vision of the future – or ours. “One day we may see a disabled person literally running to the grocery store using this technology,” he says. “Other short-term goals include refreshable Braille displays and realistic, biologically inspired robots.”