Thin, Flexible Artificial Muscles Weaved into Fabrics

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In April 1, 2016, a joint venture company was established by two Japanese universities to market small-diameter artificial muscles developed by their researchers. 

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Image source: Tokyo Institute of Technology Homepage

The artificial muscles marketed by the venture company, S-muscle, are much thinner (2 to 5 mm in outer diameters) and much more flexible than conventional ones (about 10 to 40 mm in outer diameters).  The artificial muscles weaved as muscle fibers into fabrics and pneumatically driven are expected to form light, flexible, and comfortable support suits and corsets.   

 

The artificial muscles as breakthrough device components will be attached to new type robots such as humanoid robots that flexibly operate and light-weight robots.

 

In July 2016, S-muscle will start shipping samples of the artificial muscles to manufactures and institutes that use them as device components so that they can develop end products.  In addition, S-muscle is scheduled to start marketing the artificial muscles to end users through the Internet by the end of the next fiscal year.    

 

Background of Development

 

Kouichi Suzumori, a professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, Syuichi Wakimoto, an associate professor at Okayama University, and Ikeda String Manufacturing Company had jointly developed McKibben type artificial muscles since 2011.

 

The joint team of these universities researched fundamental characteristics and applications about small-diameter artificial muscles.  Many researchers of apparel manufacturers, nursing device manufacturers, and other manufacturers that produce robots requested the joint team to offer the developed artificial muscles.  To satisfy their needs, April 1, 2016, both the universities established a joint venture company, S-muscle.  S-muscle started designing, manufacturing, and marketing the artificial muscles.   

Outline of Small-Diameter Artificial Muscles

 

The artificial muscles developed by the joint team are McKibben type artificial muscles that are thinner, more flexible, lighter, and stronger artificial muscles than those available in the market.  With these features, the artificial muscles can be used for various applications such as flexible mechanisms and new robots that are in contact with humans.

 

Example of .Small-Diameter Artificial Muscles

 

The outer diameter, contraction rate, and maximum contraction force of the artificial muscles are 2 to 5 mm, 20 to 25 %, and around 30 kef/cm2, respectively.  Many artificial muscles can be bound to form muscles having various shapes.

 

Application to Support Suits

 

When the artificial muscles are weaved into fabrics, they can be used for power suits and supporters that are soft, light, and comfortable.

 

Applications to Robots

 

The artificial muscles can be used for new type robots such as ultralight/lengthy robots and humanoid robots.

 

Future Outlook

 

After July 2016, S-muscle will start shipping samples of the artificial muscles to manufactures and institutes that use the artificial muscles as components for their products such as support suits, nursing devices, and robots.  The samples may include three types of the artificial muscles whose outer diameters are 2 mm, 2.5 mm, and 4.8 mm.  In addition, S-muscle can sell the artificial muscles, assembled products, drive units, and so forth if the customers desire.  S-muscle will design and develop small-diameter artificial muscles and research their applications associated with customers, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Okayama University.  Part of operations such as sales and manufacturing of the artificial muscles will be committed to Ikeda String Manufacturing Company.  In Spring 2017, S-muscle is scheduled to provide inexpensive commodity-type artificial muscles in association with manufacturers and institutes so that support suits, nursing devices, robots, and so forth that use the artificial muscles become common.  In addition, S-muscle will sell the artificial muscles to end users through the Internet.