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Researchers Make Breakthrough in Artificial Muscle Technology



In a world increasingly influenced by technology, soft robots, medical devices, and wearable technology have become integral parts of our daily lives. These innovations promise enhanced functionality and greater adaptability, making our interactions with technology more seamless and natural. In a significant leap forward in this domain, researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have achieved a groundbreaking development: a fluid switch powered by ionic polymer artificial muscles. This novel invention is notable for its operation at ultra-low power while generating a force that is remarkably 34 times greater than its weight.

The advent of this fluid switch marks a pivotal moment in the field of robotics and medical device technology. Traditional fluid switches, often constrained by size and rigidity, have limited applications in narrow and flexible environments. The KAIST research team's fluid switch, however, overcomes these challenges, offering promising applications in a wide range of fields. With its ability to control fluid flow in various directions and initiate movements with such a low power requirement, this development heralds a new era of efficiency and versatility in soft robotics and related technologies.

By harnessing the power of ionic polymer artificial muscles, the KAIST team has opened doors to innovative applications in soft robotics, paving the way for more flexible, efficient, and accessible technology solutions in our everyday lives.

Ultra-Low Voltage Soft Fluidic Switch

At the forefront of innovation in soft robotics, KAIST's research team, led by Professor IlKwon Oh, has developed a novel soft fluidic switch that operates on ultra-low voltage. This groundbreaking invention sets itself apart from conventional motor-based switches, which are often limited by their rigidity and large size. The fluidic switch is powered by artificial muscles, mimicking the flexibility and natural movements of human muscles, making it highly suitable for narrow and confined spaces. These artificial muscles, responding to external stimuli such as electricity, air pressure, and temperature changes, provide the switch with a precise control mechanism for fluid flow. This development represents a significant stride in the realm of soft robotics and fluid mechanics, offering a more adaptable and efficient solution for various applications.

Transforming Technology with the Ionic Polymer Artificial Muscle

At the core of this innovative switch is the ionic polymer artificial muscle, a unique assembly of metal electrodes and ionic polymers developed by the KAIST team. The introduction of a polysulfonated covalent organic framework (pS-COF) onto the muscle's electrode significantly enhances its force-generating capacity. Despite its slender form, with a thickness of just 180 µm, the muscle is capable of producing a force over 34 times greater than its weight. This remarkable feature enables smooth and efficient movement even within ultra-small electronic systems.

Professor IlKwon Oh emphasizes the potential of this technology in various industrial applications. “From smart fibers to biomedical devices, this technology has the potential to be immediately put to use in a variety of industrial settings,” he says. He further notes that it can be easily applied to ultra-small electronic systems, opening up many possibilities in the fields of soft robots, soft electronics, and microfluidics based on fluid control. This versatility underscores the broad applicability of the electro-ionic soft actuator in transforming not just soft robotics but also other technology-driven industries.

You can read the full research here.

Alex McFarland is a tech writer who covers the latest developments in artificial intelligence. He has worked with AI startups and publications across the globe.