Japanese researchers have developed a new approach to robotics that could revolutionise the future of artificial limbs. The team, from Okinawa University, has come up with an amazing "muscle" design that is driven by compressed air and is simpler than the designs of many other prosthetic arms currently in development. More info, plus a video of the "muscles" in action after the jump.
By pumping air in and out of a mesh and rubber construction, the Okinawa "muscle" mimics the contracting motion of real muscles with their fine degree of control and power variation. The compressed air solution clearly offers more strength than is available in its flesh-and-bone equivalent, and placing the muscles in an artificial arm or hand that mimics the struture of a real one will enable the user to move more realistically than a conventional prosthetic arm allows—the motion of the hand unscrewing the light bulb in the video is just amazingly natural.
Currently at the prototype stage, the designs are more like robotic limbs than prosthetic ones, but there is potential to use the technology to help amputees in the future. The design is scaleable, too - an 8m muscle could create some fearsome mechanical arms on a JCB, or a remarkably dextrous factory robot.
Many prosthetics currently on offer can seem clunky, but this compressed-air muscle looks like a great idea. It seems more logical to use Nature's design rather than complex pistons or motors with gear-trains. Fingers crossed that they get incorporated into prosthetic aids as soon as possible. TechEBlog][