Scientists at CU Boulder have developed artificial robotic muscles that are stronger, faster, and more life-like than ever before.

Give it up for science! Members of the Keplinger Research Group at the University of Colorado, Boulder, have made huge strides in robotic development, creating artificial muscles that have the capacity to lift heavy objects as well as pick up small, delicate items without damaging them. This is great news for amputees and science fiction fans alike.

The robotic muscles are officially called HASELs, which stands for “hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic” actuators, and they differ from past models because they’re made of a stretchy, silicone-type material.

“Just like humans have muscles to help us walk around or pick things up, we need robots to have those same type of muscles,” Tim Morrissey, with CU’s Keplinger Research Group, told Colorado Public Radio (CPR). “Most devices out there today are made out of metal; they use electronic conductors — things like that. But what we’re trying to do here is really introduce something that’s pretty new — other people’ve been doing it, but with limited success — and ours are made out of soft things.”

The HASELs are also filled with a simple oil substance (hence, the term “hydraulically amplified”), which helps in making them pliable, and they use salt water as an ionic conductor so that they can conduct electricity while still staying squishy.

“What makes them move is an applied voltage,” Keplinger’s Eric Acome explained to CPR. “So that means we have conductors on either side of these soft materials and apply voltage that puts charges on either side — positive on one side, negative on the other. If the voltage is high enough, those positive and negative charges want to attract to each other, so that pulls together and compresses the material, and we can use that to make devices that expand or that contract.”

So what does this all mean? Well, eventually, this technology could be employed in prosthetic limbs or to make robots look more life-like. In fact, in some ways, the HASELs already perform better than human muscles, since they’re able to “stretch over a hundred times their initial length,” Acome said. A human muscle can only expand about 30 percent in length.

The HASELs currently operate with high-voltage charges, so the next thing the Keplinger team will tackle is the ability for the artificial muscles to utilize low-voltage.

For more information, visit the Keplinger Research Group’s website.

I can say, as the daughter of an amputee, that the potential of HASEL technology is truly exciting! Someday, my dad may be able to have muscle control on his prosthetic foot!

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Want to know more ways that Coloradans is impacting science? Here are three Colorado-born gadgets that are straight out of science fiction!