Synthetic muscles are generally expensive, weak, and not very durable—not exactly a welcome replacement for natural muscle. Thankfully, a research team led by University of Texas at Dallas Professor Ray Baughman just turned all of that around, making wickedly strong artificial muscle fibers from nothing more than fishing wire.
In a newly published research paper, Dr. Baughman's team showed that twisting fishing wire into super-tight coils creates a super-strong fiber that contracts like human muscle when heated. But the synthetic fibers make human muscle seem puny, lifting 100 times more weight and generating 100 times higher mechanical power than the same length and weight of human muscle. That's a power-to-weight ratio on par with a jet engine.
Here's a video showing how the coiled fibers are formed, and how they contract when heated:
Dr. Baughman and his team envision all kinds of phenomenal sci-fi applications for this type of synthetic muscle fiber. "Today's most advanced humanoid robots, prosthetic limbs and wearable exoskeletons are limited by motors and hydraulic systems, whose size and weight restrict dexterity, force generation and work capability," he said in a statement.
Carter Haines, lead author on the study, sees a different use for the fibers. "We have woven textiles from the polymer muscles whose pores reversibly open and close with changes in temperature," he says. "This offers the future possibility of comfort-adjusting clothing." The fibers' ability to react to the ambient temperature could also be used to automatically open or close windows, creating a self-regulating temperature system for buildings that doesn't require electricity.