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November 28, 2016

MIT’s new nylon muscles could lead to actual Westworld hosts

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MIT has a new nylon-based artificial muscle-like filament created by researchers that could eventually provide the basis for robots with bulging biceps. The filaments themselves look eerily similar to the ones extruded by the 3D printers used in the opening sequence of HBO’s Westworld, which is why Gizmodo and others are seeing parallels between potential applications of the tech and Westworld‘s lifelike hosts.
MIT’s new solution isn’t the first artificial muscle technology developed, but it is simple and low cost, unlike existing offerings. The researchers developing the tech found that specific types of nylon fiber can reproduce some of the bending and stretching actions of muscles when heated. That’s because they shrink in length but expand in diameter, just like our own muscle fibers do, when heat is applied selectively to one side of the material.

Heating specific areas in sequence made it possible for researchers to create more complex and specific movement patterns, like circles and figure eights. The heat source can be pretty much anything, including electrical resistance, chemical reactions or laser light shined on parts of the filament, allowing for use in a wide range of settings and scales.
Researchers think the material should prove effective in things like grippers or biomedical devices, but long-term, it’s obviously going to be used to create a hyperrealistic old west fantasy theme park where we wrestle with the ethics of artificial intelligence.

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