Nanotube Yarn Makes Strong Bionic Muscles

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.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this university toying with artificial muscles and carbon nanotubes. Some artificial muscle fibers need a laser, but that’s not very handy.

17 thoughts on “Nanotube Yarn Makes Strong Bionic Muscles

  1. This reminds me of an article from a few years back, using twisted lengths of fishing line to make artificial muscles, it may have been here on HaD thinking about it. I remember giving it a go myself, it worked quite well. Certainly more energy efficient than nitinol and lighter than standard linear actuators of similar stroke and capacity.
    It’ll be interesting to see if this new carbon nanotube technology can be scaled up.

      1. Well, I hate when people nitpick (that’s why I said I was sorry about that), and I don’t like to do that myself, but I just couldn’t help it in this case. I’m learning electronics as a hobby and IMO it’s very important to understand clearly difference between voltage and current.

    1. I wonder how most people here use the words when they want to be precise. Due to physics background I tend to use voltage only when describing a current, as in the voltage drop experienced by a current. For a source like a battery I would use “potential” or “electrical potential” and the same for a capacitor where there is no physical current. This is pretty arbitrary since I could just as well describe the current by its magnitude and the potential drop instead of voltage drop.

      In general working on stuff I would say “What’s the voltage at TP3?” mainly because it is being measured with a “voltmeter”. If I don’t say something like “voltage across R7” then it is implied to measure relative to ground.

      1. I’m probably lucky because I never talk about that, because it’s not a part of my job and I don’t have anyone to talk about electronics. But IMO potential and voltage are exactly the same thing, as voltage drop is the same thing as potential drop. If voltage/potential is not mentioned directly as “between these two points” or “drop across”, then it’s between a point and ground. IMO there is no ambiguity. As humans we should be ready to make some assumptions when details are not provided.

  2. “This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this university toying with artificial muscles and carbon nanotubes. “

    Indeed — Ray Baughman is a leader in this area, and is an interesting character in his own right. Some of his lectures are available on YouTube and worth looking at for anyone interested in this area.

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