Researchers Create Synthetic Muscle 100 Times Stronger Than the Real Thing

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A team of researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have come up with an ingenious way to make a low-cost, high strength, artificial muscle. Their secret? Fishing line. The study was just published today in the journal Science, and the best part is they describe how to recreate it at home.

To create it, the researchers take regular fishing line (polyethylene or nylon string) and twist it under tension until it curls up into a tightly formed spring. It can then be temperature treated to lock in this position.

When heated again, the plastic tries to untwist — the peculiar thing is, this causes the entire coil to compress — think of it as Chinese finger-trap. Polyethylene and nylon molecules also contract lengthwise when heated. It can contract up to about 49%, with as much pulling power as 100 times its equivalent human muscle in weight. This equates to about 5.3 kilowatts of mechanical work per kilogram of muscle weight — similar to the output of a jet engine.

Stick around to see the video of how to make it — we’re excited to see what you guys think up for project applications!

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3D Printering: Alternative Filaments

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ABS and PLA are the backbones of the 3D printing world. They’re both easy to obtain and are good enough for most applications. They are not, however, the be-all, end-all filaments for all your 3D printing needs. Depending on your design, you may need something that is much tougher, much more flexible, or simply has a different appearance or texture. Here are a few alternative plastics for your RepRap, Makerbot, or other 3D printer:

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3D printing with Nylon for a more useful objects

[taulman] over on Instructables has been working on his own version of a 3D printer. Unlike the usual PLA or ABS filament all the RepRaps and Makerbots use, this printer uses nylon to make parts with very interesting properties.

Most extrusion printers are designed to print with ABS (a very hard plastic that melts around 220-230° C) or PLA (a somewhat softer plastic that melts at about 180° C). [taulman] is using Nylon 6, a very slippery and bendable plastic that melts around 320° C (about 600 degrees Fahrenheit). He’s doing this with a hot end of his own design and a ‘spiky’ extruder bolt that allows high-temperature thermoplastics to be extruded into any shape imaginable.

For the longest time, the 3D printer community has been using low-temperature thermoplastics such as PLA and ABS. There are obvious benefits to these materials: it’s pretty easy to source a spool of filament, and the low melting point of these plastics makes building a printer easier and safer. Now that [taulman] has the high-temperature plastic nut cracked, he’s moving on to easily-machiniable Delrin and transparent Polycarbonate. Very cool, and hopefully in a year’s time we’ll have a choice of what material to run in our printers.

After the break, there are a few videos [taulman] put up showing his printer at work and the properties of his 3D printed objects. It looks like [taulman] can print objects that are impossible on any other 3D printer we’ve seen; the flexible iPhone case probably couldn’t be made on any other DIY machine.

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Simple PCB vise

This one almost got relegated to a links post, but [Ken's] simple PCB vise (PDF) is just so useful we had to give it a standalone feature. It works so well because he made every design feature count.

For instance, the groove the holds the PCB (almost impossible to see here but look at the diagrams in the PDF linked above) is cut with a dovetail bit, rather than just being a square rabbit. The clamping force is provided by that blue rubber band which simply hooks on a metal shelf peg on each side of the clamping plates. Those plates are machined out of polyethylene and slide nicely along the two nylon rods which keep them aligned. There’s really nothing to break or wear out here, except the rubber band with is easily replaceable. The rubber feet keep it from sliding across the bench as you work.

This is great for soldering, and would go right along with those diy smd parts clamps you made. It’s also a great way to hold onto your prototype boards when you’re working out the firmware.

Bikinis of the future!

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It’s always interesting to see what happens when hacking meets clothing – check out this pair of bikinis, for instance.

This first item, called the N12 bikini (mildly NSFW), comes from Continuum Fashion and is composed entirely from Nylon 12, hence the name. Shapeways uses 3D Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) to create the tiny circles that make up this piece of swimwear. The suit is held together by tiny stretchy strings made of the same nylon, and the bikini can be printed to order. It seems like an interesting idea, but we wonder how it would hold up against some big waves or a game of beach volleyball.

The second item is a bit more functional. Designer [Andrew Schneider] has put together a bikini that can solve all of your energy needs while sitting by the pool. His solar bikini is covered with hand-sewn flexible solar cells that work together to produce up to 5v, available via a USB connection. He claims that you are free to go swimming in the suit, so long as you dry out the USB port before using it again. For all the guys out there crying foul, don’t worry – he’s got a suit for you too. He’ll be putting together a men’s suit in the near future that powers a 1.5 amp Peltier cooler to keep your beer cold – we just don’t want to know where the hot side of the Peltier goes…

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