Lightweight Components and Artificial Muscles

Space is always at a premium inside cars, planes, machines, and devices. Overall, weight is another consistent challenge. A research team at Saarland University and the Center for Mechatronics and Automation Technology (ZeMA) in Saarbrücken is developing novel components to be manufactured commercially.

The team is exploiting the properties of intelligent materials to provide drive components with artificial muscles, targeting areas where something must rotate or where switches are installed in tight spaces. They deliver large-torque, large-angle rotational motion that now needs much larger motors or hydraulic or pneumatic systems. The prototype contains strands of artificial ‘muscle’ made from ultrathin nickel-titanium wires that can contract or relax depending on the applied current. Wires exert a substantial tensile force over a very short distance. The artificial muscles made from nickel-titanium alloy have the highest energy density of all known drive mechanisms.

The engineers control the movement of the artificial muscles so that they contract and relax like real muscle fibers. Since they don’t need additional sensors, the drive systems save space and energy. The artificial muscles themselves also serve as sensors.

The researchers build modular components using these precisely controllable artificial muscles, adapting to specific applications. The technology is scalable so that larger technical parts can also be manufactured. It produces neither noise nor exhaust fumes and doesn’t need additional equipment such as hoses, valves, pumps or compressors, or rare earths.

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