Fishing line isn’t just for fishing any more.
Medical researchers in Canada are experimenting with fibers from fishing line and sewing thread in an effort to create inexpensive artificial muscles that could be used in medical devices, humanoid robots, prosthetic limbs and woven into fabric.
In a study published Feb. 20 in the journal Science, researchers detail how they created inexpensive artificial muscles that generate far more force and power than human or animal muscles of the same size.
“In terms of the strength and power of the artificial muscle, we found that it can quickly lift weights 100 times heavier than a same-size human muscle can, in a single contraction,” said John Madden an electrical and computer engineering professor at the University of British Columbia. “It also has a higher power output for its weight than that of an automobile combustion engine.”
Artificial muscles have been made in the past out of materials like metal wires and carbon nanotubes, but researchers and device makers found them expensive to fabricate and difficult to control.
Madden and his colleagues used high-strength polymer fibers made from polyethylene and nylon, common materials used in fishing lines and sewing thread.
The fibers were twisted into tight coils, like the twist of a rubber band for a model toy airplane, to create an artificial muscle that could contract and relax.
Researchers said the artificial muscles contract and relax in response to changes in temperature, which can be controlled by an electrical heating element.
The system has been demonstrated by using such muscles to manipulate surgical forceps, and researchers say the artificial muscles may also find use in robots and low cost devices to help those with impaired mobility.