Artificial muscle device produces force 34 times its weight


Soft robots, medical devices, and wearable devices have permeated our daily lives. KAIST researchers have developed a fluid switch using ionic polymer artificial muscles that operates at ultra-low power and produces a force 34 times greater than its weight. Fluid switches control fluid flow, causing the fluid to flow in a specific direction to invoke various movements.

KAIST (President Kwang-Hyung Lee) announced on the 4th of January that a research team under Professor IlKwon Oh from the Department of Mechanical Engineering has developed a soft fluidic switch that operates at ultra-low voltage and can be used in narrow spaces.

Artificial muscles imitate human muscles and provide flexible and natural movements compared to traditional motors, making them one of the basic elements used in soft robots, medical devices, and wearable devices. These artificial muscles create movements in response to external stimuli such as electricity, air pressure, and temperature changes, and in order to utilize artificial muscles, it is important to control these movements precisely.

Switches based on existing motors were difficult to use within limited spaces due to their rigidity and large size. In order to address these issues, the research team developed an electro-ionic soft actuator that can control fluid flow while producing large amounts of force, even in a narrow pipe, and used it as a soft fluidic switch.

The ionic polymer artificial muscle developed by the research team is composed of metal electrodes and ionic polymers, and it generates force and movement in response to electricity. A polysulfonated covalent organic framework (pS-COF) made by combining organic molecules on the surface of the artificial muscle electrode was used to generate an impressive amount of force relative to its weight with ultra-low power (~0.01V).

As a result, the artificial muscle, which was manufactured to be as thin as a hair with a thickness of 180 µm, produced a force more than 34 times greater than its light weight of 10 mg to initiate smooth movement. Through this, the research team was able to precisely control the direction of fluid flow with low power.

Professor IlKwon Oh, who led this research, said, “The electrochemical soft fluidic switch that operate at ultra-low power can open up many possibilities in the fields of soft robots, soft electronics, and microfluidics based on fluid control.” He added, “From smart fibers to biomedical devices, this technology has the potential to be immediately put to use in a variety of industrial settings as it can be easily applied to ultra-small electronic systems in our daily lives.”

The results of this study, in which Dr. Manmatha Mahato, a research professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at KAIST, participated as the first author, were published in the international academic journal Science Advances on December 13, 2023. (Paper title: Polysulfonated Covalent Organic Framework as Active Electrode Host for Mobile Cation Guests in Electrochemical Soft Actuator)

This research was conducted with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea’s Leader Scientist Support Project (Creative Research Group) and Future Convergence Pioneer Project.


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