Biodegradable artificial muscles: Researchers in the field of soft robotics focus on sustainability
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Johannes Kepler University in Linz (Austria), and the University of Colorado in Boulder (USA) have developed fully biodegradable, high-performance artificial muscles.
Thus, the topic of sustainability is coming more and more into focus in soft robotics too. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) in Stuttgart, Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Linz (Austria), and the University of Colorado (CU Boulder) in Boulder (USA) have developed a completely biodegradable, high-performance artificial muscle made of gelatine, oil, and bioplastic. In a research paper, the team shows how they have equipped a gripper arm with several such artificial muscles. If the muscles are damaged at some point or no longer function properly, they can be disposed of in the biowaste bin. Under controlled conditions, the artificial muscles break down completely within six months.
The research team calls the electrically powered artificial muscle HASEL. HASELs are plastic bags filled with oil and equipped with electrodes on both sides of the bag. When a high voltage is applied between the electrodes, the electrostatic forces cause the vegetable oil inside the bag to shift. As the oil is pushed back and forth, the bag contracts – like a real muscle. The most important prerequisite for the deformation of the HASELs to work is that all materials can withstand high electrical voltages.