University of Texas researchers have come up with two different artificial muscle designs that derive strength from processes remarkably similar to biological muscles -- but are much stronger. Both systems use chemical energy (one hydrogen, the other alcohol) and "breathe" oxygen. Structurally, they remain clearly artificial, relying on wires, carbon fiber and glass tubes.
The most powerful type, "shorted fuel cell muscles" convert chemical energy into heat, causing a special shape-memory metal alloy to contract. Turning down the heat allows the muscle to relax. Lab tests showed that these devices had a lifting strength more than 100 times that of normal skeletal muscle. [...]
"The muscle consumes oxygen and fuel that can be transported via a circulation system; the muscle itself supports the chemical reaction that leads to mechanical work; electrochemical circuits can act as nerves, controlling actuation; some energy is stored locally in the muscle itself; and, like natural muscle, the materials studied contract linearly."
The researchers see this development as potentially transforming how mechanical systems are built, as well as leading to technologies to strengthen individuals, either through prosthetics or exoskeletons.
(For you whippersnappers out there: Steve Austin was the fictional bionic "Six Million Dollar Man," back when $6 million really meant something.)
There's one big difference between these muscles and biological muscles: When biological muscles are used, they become stronger. These can wear out much faster than our muscles.
These will be great in exoskeletons, though as Icelander said it wears out much faster then regular muscles and would not be suitable for endoskeletons, so no, the 6 Million Dollar Man(or women) is not nigh.
Robotics will benefit from this technology as well. Just hope they leave them vulnerable to EMP so if they go haywire then we'll just Emp em.
This material, despite wearing out faster than natural muscle, could still be useful for actuators on industrial robots and, if used in prosthetics that aren't actually grafted to the body, it would be easy enough to replace.