What’s just a bit thicker than a human hair and has ten times the capability of a human muscle? Polymer-coated carbon nanotube yarn. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas created this yarn using carbon nanotubes coated with a polymer and coiled with a diameter of about 140 microns.
Passing a voltage through the fiber causes the muscle yarn to expand or contract. Previous similar fibers have to do both actions. That is, they expand and then contract in a bipolar movement. The polymer coating allows for unipolar fibers, critical to using the fibers as artificial muscles.
Another improvement is the development of a solid electrolyte so the fibers don’t have to float in a liquid bath. The researchers say this is important for the creating of smart fabrics and, of course, the material has obvious applications in any sort of robotic design. In addition to smart clothing, medical implants and prosthetics could benefit from this material, too.
The only problem, of course, is production at scale. It is one thing to make a few centimeters of yarn in a lab, and another to smart shirts in every big box store in the world.