This Artificial Muscle Can Lift 12,600 times Its Own Weight

Updated | Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new technology, which would put even the most ardent bodybuilders to shame—an artificial muscle that can lift 12,600 times its own weight.

This artificial muscle is a twisted and coiled bundle of carbon fibers embedded in silicone rubber which is powered by electricity, according to a new study published in the journal Smart Materials and Structures by engineers Sameh Tawfick, Caterina Lamuta and Simon Messelot.

This new artificial muscle can lift 12,600 times its own weight. University of Illinois (Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering)

"You can use a few volts to cause the coil to heat-up, expand the bundle diameter by a small amount, then the muscle contracts significantly along its length," Tawfick told Newsweek. "The contraction of this coiled actuator is reminiscent of natural muscles, and hence we call them artificial muscles."

"We designed these muscles based on our theoretical understanding of how they work: the secret of their incredible performance is in the twisted and coiled geometry," Tawfick said. "Our muscle wires are both coiled and twisted, and hence any small expansion in diameter caused by heating makes them resist force by contracting significantly."

In the study, the researchers demonstrated that an artificial muscle of just 0.4mm in diameter is capable of lifting half a gallon of water by 1.4 inches using only minimal electricity. The work—the transfer of energy from one place to another—is 18 times more than what human muscles are capable of.

Given that they are strong, light and made from commercially available materials, these muscles could be used in a huge range of applications—according to the researchers—such as robotics, prosthetics, orthotics and other human-assistive devices. They could even be used as a cheap alternative to electric motors in some scenarios.

Researchers at the University of Illinois are developing a new technology which would put even the most ardent bodybuilders to shame. PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images

The team also developed a mathematical model to describe how their technology would function in different applications, which could be helpful for researchers developing new artificial muscles with specific properties.

Recent advances in this field have led to ever more complex creations. For example, a 2018 paper in Science described an artificial muscle which can self-heal, while a 2017 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detailed a flexible "origami" muscle which can lift 1,000 times its own weight.

This article has been updated to include additional comments from Sameh Tawfick​.