Artificial Muscles Stretch, Contract like the Real ThingOkay, so bionic limbs aren't as cool as they sound. Between the motors, short battery life, and the general inability to control them well, electronic replacement limbs are still routinely ousted by centuries-old technology.
But we might be getting closer to solving at least part of the problem. Scientists have managed to make a material that contracts quite similarly to actual muscle, which could lead to full replacement limbs with actual replacement muscles. Which would be a pretty big deal.
The problem with mimicking muscle is that your muscle is really millions of individual little cells, all of which contract slightly differently. A muscle contraction is a pretty complicated thing, even if it seems mundane due to how often we do it.
To mimic that, you need nanotechnology. Specifically: an army of nano-machines, all acting in unison to bring about a given result. And that is just what this research has gotten us.
While each individual little robot can only contract a single nanometer, when brought together they can cover a distance 10,000 times that. Now, true, that still only works out to 10 micrometers, but hey, most discoveries start small. The Wright brothers didn't build a supersonic jet, did they?
The research is thanks to a team of researcher from the around the world, but headed by a CRNS team from the Institut Charles Sadron. Thanks to the work of Nicolas Giuseppone, the Université de Strasbourg professor who headed up the project, we might soon have full bionic limbs capable of realistic motion. Or robots that mimic biology, rather than sticking to the mechanistic style that has been ascribed to them for millennia.
Of course, we still need to solve that one tiny problem where we still can't control bionic limbs well, but hey, all in good time.