SAN ANTONIO--October 16, 2002--Nanomuscles, based on either shape memory alloys (SMAs) or carbon nanotube fibers, are gaining attention due to their potential for use in the human body or to replace small motors in industry.
Shape memory alloys, for example, are 'smart' materials on the leading edge of development. The SMA, a mix of nickel and titanium, has existed since the 1950s and has the unique ability to "remember" its shape. When electric current is applied to it, a stretched SMA will snap back to its original form. However, the SMA in the past has experienced problems reaching commercialization, sometimes because its movements tended to be unpredictable.
Nanomuscle devices developed by NanoMuscle Inc., for instance, utilize SMA wires so effectively that they can be stretched by as much as 13 percent of their length using very little force. In fact, snapping back to their original length, they create a force strong enough to lift 140 grams. This device is targeted at replacing small linear motors in industry.
In a separate development, University of Florida researchers relied on nickel titanium's unique properties to build a device that can move the equivalent of more than 100 pounds. The device may be suitable for medical applications such as artificial muscles for next-generation prosthesis. The researchers say they are hoping that nickel titanium 'muscle' will eventually mimic the strength and motion of a real tendon.
In related work, a team of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Tsinghua University has developed a simple method for making continuous, hair-like strands of carbon nanotubes that are as long as eight inches. This development is among the first steps toward creating such products as mechanically robust electrochemical actuators for artificial muscles.
The University of Texas at Dallas' NanoTech Institute is collaborating with researchers worldwide to demonstrate that carbon nanotube fibers can be used simultaneously as ultra-high-strength structural materials and as materials that store electrical energy, harvest waste energy and convert electrical energy to mechanical energy. Potential applications include high-power, low-voltage artificial muscles that can operate at extremely high temperatures.
"Applications for nanomuscles are not limited to healthcare. Small motors consume more than half of all the power generated in North America," says Aninditta Savitry, Technical Insights analyst. "Nanomuscle devices have a huge market opportunity with their superior performance, smaller package, and lower cost."
New analysis by Technical Insights, a business unit of Frost & Sullivan (www.Technical-Insights.frost.com), featured in High Tech Materials, uncovers critical developments in smart muscle technologies.
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