MIT's New Plastic Muscles Could Bring Us One Step Closer to a Real-Life Westworld

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We strive to make robots in our own likeness because, as far as we can tell, humans are best adapted to deal with our world. And thanks to researchers at MIT, who’ve found a way to use cheap, nylon plastic as an artificial muscle, we’re now one step closer to creating artificial humans—and opulent fantasy theme parks.

Artificial muscles aren’t a new idea. Developed decades ago they replicate how the muscles in humans and animals work to facilitate movement, by simply expanding and contracting. But the exotic materials needed to make artificial muscles work are expensive, and no where near as durable, or self-repairing, as the real thing.

So researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked to another material as a way to make simple and cheap artificial muscles, and discovered that when plastic nylon fibers were heated, they shrink in length but expand in diameter, causing them to bend.


By controlling exactly how much heat is applied to the fibers, and from which direction it comes, the researchers were able to precisely and repeatedly move the plastic fibers in specific patterns.


Seeing the artificial muscles in action isn’t quite as exciting as watching a muscled athlete compete, but this is an important step towards not only improving how robots move, but also who will eventually have access to them. Thanks to this research, robotic butlers might one day be accessible to more than just the super rich. And robotic wild west theme parks won’t only be limited to just billionaires.