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Artificial muscles lift 80 times their weight, pave the way for robot Superman

Steve Dent , @stevetdent

Other than a few models from Boston Dynamics, most robots don't exactly leave us quaking in fear. That might be off the table soon, though, thanks to a breakthrough from researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS). They've developed polymer-derived artificial muscles that can stretch out up to five times in length, enabling them to lift 80 times their weight. That could one day result in life-like robots with "superhuman strength and ability," which could also run on very little power, according to the team. They expect to have a robotic limb that could smack down any human in arm-wrestling within five years -- putting a possible cyborg version of Over The Top alarmingly within reach.

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Creating powerful human - like robotic muscles

NUS Engineering team led by Dr Arian Koh has achieved a world record. They have designed an artificial muscle which could carry a weight 80 times its own while extend ing to five times its original length. The team's invention will pave the w ay for the constructing of life - like robots with superhuman strength and ability.

Artificial muscles have been known to extend to only three times its original length when similarly stressed. The muscle's degree of extensibility is a significant factor contributing to the muscle's efficiency as it means that it could perform a wider range of operations while carrying heavy loads. Robots, no matter how intelligent, are restricted by their muscles which are able to lift loads only half its own weight – about equivalent to an average human's strength (though some humans could lift loads up to three times their weight.

Dr Koh and his team used polymers which could be stretched over 10 times their original length. Translated scientifically, this means that these muscles have a strain displacement of 1,000 per cent. A good understanding of the fundamentals was largely the cause of their success, Dr Koh added. "We put theory to good use. Last year, we calculated theoretically that polymer muscles driven by electrical impulse could potentially have a strain displacement of 1,000 per cent, lifting a load of up to 500 times its own weight. So I asked my students to strive towards this Holy Grail, no matter how impossible it sounded," he said.

Though they could only achieve a modicum of their target, it was a world record. For his contributions, Dr Koh was awarded the Promising International Researcher Award at the 3rd International Conference on Electromechanically - Active Polymer Transducers and Artificial Muscles in June 2013 held in Zürich, Switzerland. The Award recogni es young researchers from outside Europe, who have made significant contributions in the field of electromechanically - active polymers, and display promise to successful career in the field. Green robots "Our novel muscles are not just strong and responsive. Their movements produce a by - product -- energy. As the muscles contract and expand, they are capable of converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. Due to the nature of this mate rial, it is capable of packing a large amount of energy in a small package. We calculated that if one were to build an electrical generator from these soft materials, a 10kg system is capable of producing the same amount of energy of a 1 - ton electrical tu rbine" Dr Koh said.

This means that the energy generated may lead to the robot being self - powered after a short period of charging – which is expected to be less than a minute. Dr Koh said they are still beefing up their muscles. They will also be filing a patent for their success formula of materials and right degree of electric impulses . And in about three to five years, they expect to be able to come out with a robotic arm , about half the size and weight of a human a r m which can wrestle with that of a human 's -- and win. The research team plans to work further with researchers from Materials Science, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering , as well as Bioengineering to create robots and robotic limbs which are more human - like in both functions and appearance.