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Turing machine built from artificial muscles may lead to smart prosthetics

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
March 29, 2013
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In the hierarchy of computing hardware, artificial muscle doesn't really even register: it's usually a target for action, not the perpetrator. The University of Auckland has figured out a way to let those muscles play a more active role. Its prototype Turing machine uses a set of electroactive polymer muscles to push memory elements into place and squeeze piezoresistive switches, performing virtually any calculation through flexing. The proof-of-concept computer won't give silicon circuits any threat when it's running at just 0.15Hz and takes up as much space as a mini fridge, but the hope is to dramatically speed up and shrink down future iterations to where there are advanced computers that occupy the same size as real muscles. Researchers ultimately envision smart prosthetic limbs with near-natural reflexes, completely soft robots with complex gestures and even a switch from digital to analog computing for some tasks. Although we're quite a distance away from any of those muscle-bound ideas becoming everyday realities, it's good to at least see them on the horizon.

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