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Design Job: Sketch Your Way to a Job as an Industrial Design Intern at Dolmen Design in Dublin, Ireland

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-11-12 19:57

Dolmen Design & Innovation, in Dublin, is always looking for good interns with great portfolios and a passion for design. They will want to see sketching skills and and documentation on your process and thinking. All of their internships are paid. And, as with all roles, please just apply (this is a diversity plea!). We want a good mix of men, women, nationalities etc.

View the full design job here

Robots Fighting With Swords, Playing Soccer and Doing Pro Wrestling Moves on Each Other

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-11-12 19:57

Corridor Digital's video of the gunslinging "Bosstown Dynamics" robot may have been fake, but the following are all real. (And thankfully, diminutive.) First off, robots fighting with swords:

From Japan's ROBO-ONE league.

Secondly, a robot performing a single-leg Suplex on another:

From Japan's Kanto Robot Heavyweight Championship

How hilarious is it that they have a robot referee? (We'll put the full video down at the bottom, it's hilarious but also 13 minutes long.)

Finally, here's some folks from MIT's Biomimetic Robotics Lab showing off nine of their Mini Cheetah 'bots playing soccer, among other things:

From MIT's Biomimetic Robotics Lab

While these are all RC (for now), you've undoubtedly noted that despite their clunkiness, they're all mechanically capable of taking to their feet after being knocked down. This is something I hoped no robot would be able to do--pushing them over is likely to be our last line of defense.

Extended Viewing

As mentioned above, the full wrestling video (with excited narration in Japanese) is pretty freaking funny, even if you can't understand what's being said. Sneak a peek at it while you're waiting for something to render.

Using Gravity and Tension to Create an Unlikely Object

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-11-12 19:57

Came across this (uncredited) video demonstrating how gravity and tension can be wielded to create an unlikely object:

This reminded me a bit of designer Robby Cuthbert's tensegrity-based furniture designs. Which in turn made me wonder: How long until a design student attempts to integrate this trick into a furniture design project?

By the bye, here are the best (untrue) comments from this Reddit thread explaining the phenomenon:

- "The camera is upside down"- "It's in Australia"- "Magnets, bitch"- "The fucking strings are haunted"

Brilliant Hand-Cranked Museum Display Demonstrating How LED Bulbs Use Way Less Power

Core 77 - Tue, 2019-11-12 19:57

As most of you know, LED bulbs use way less power than incandescent bulbs. (The U.S. Department of Energy says at least 75% less power; Consumer Reports puts the figure at 80%.) That's because incandescents wastefully transform most of the incoming energy into heat, whereas LEDs are efficient enough to transform most of that energy into light.

That's easy for us adults to grasp, maybe not so easy for a child. Hence the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia's science museum dedicated to the fellow on our C-notes, has installed this simple demonstration machine:

Whatever exhibition designer came up with that should be lauded. I really hate that things like this go uncredited. And speaking of credit, the video has been attributed to the Instagram account AndysTechGarage; I couldn't find it on his page (the man has over 2,000 posts) or I'd have embedded it.

Transformational technologies that can change the world

Design News - Tue, 2019-11-12 11:30

Lux Research (Boston) released on November 7 its Annual List of Transformational Technologies that are projected to have the greatest impact over the next 10 years.

Lux’s “20 for 2020” report identifies and ranks 20 technologies that will reshape the world, based on innovation interest scores from the Lux Intelligence Engine, along with input from Lux’s leading analysts.

While they are factored in, the report goes beyond megatrends, market demand and new innovations that can thrust many technologies into the spotlight by also providing a shortlist that is intended to provide “data-backed context for the ever-shifting technology landscape and insights into how companies can maximize the investment opportunities these data trends reveal.”

I mean, Lux really goes deep, poring through patents, papers, funding and more.

In short, it lists the emerging technologies that the firm is most bullish on near term and over the next decade. I thought it would be of interest to readers to pull out the ones of particular interest to the plastics community from this fascinating list—and we barely have to go into the list to find the first.

But we’ll begin with what Lux’s identifies as the top two broad transformational market drivers:

1. 5G Networks: From robotic surgery to self-driving cars, 5G will be critical to advances in the internet of things. 5G has officially left the realm of research and entered reality, with more than 2,200 patents being filed this year. 

2. Shared Mobility: With more than $10 billion in funding every year for the past three years, shared mobility—like car-sharing services—are reinventing urban transportation. This was a new entry to the leaderboard as is the next.

And at #3, it’s…

That brings us to #3, which is the first in the list to point directly to plastics via a top-of-mind topic that’s of interest throughout the plastics community and beyond because it’s a subset, and perhaps a large one, of a circular value chain.

3. Advanced Plastic Recycling: Innovations that can convert plastic waste into a variety of valuable products, enabling a circular economy and avoiding pollution.

Mission-critical for companies from consumer-packaged goods companies to chemicals, China has invested in recycling technology in a big way, with 55% of all patents coming from that country. 

The report expands on the topic in the summary, noting…

Why it’s important: Regulations like single-use plastic bans and waste reduction commitments from brands are shaking up the plastics value chain. Plastic waste recycling is becoming mission-critical for companies from CPGs to chemicals.

What you should do: Companies need to develop waste collection and sorting and help scale up conversion technologies like pyrolysis and chemical recycling. Look for those collecting and converting to present new competition for oil, chemicals, and materials companies in the new circular value chain.

PlasticsToday had already identified this as a high-interest market when noting that reports on this topic, especially recently, appear at the top of our monthly metrics reports of the best-read content.

The Top 25 most-read articles from among approximately 900 published so far in 2019 at PlasticsToday are dominated by the overarching themes of recycling and sustainability, including also these three recent features on advanced recycling:

Dow to source pyrolysis oil feedstock made from recycled plastic waste, published August 2019;

Is plasma gasification the solution for plastics and all waste?, published August 2019;

Is an age-old chemical process the solution to today’s plastic waste problem?, published July 2019.

Some 78 articles appear using the search term chemical recycling, and there are 145 when the term is combined with pyrolysis.

Lux’s Top 5 rounds out with Solid State Batteries followed by Protein Production.

Next: Additional plastic references

Plastic technologies appear at least directly once more, via 3D printing at #8, a 7 position drop from the list for 2019 (the synonymous term additive manufacturing yields more than 1,400 articles at PlasticsToday).

You can also find plastics “hidden” among the remaining technologies where plastics are used or are applicable; for example, that now includes Blockchain, which landed at #15 (see Blockchain technology applied to plastics traceability and sustainability, published October 2019), and 2D materials, which appears at #18. Wikipedia defines two-dimensional materials, which are sometimes referred to as single-layer materials, as "crystalline materials consisting of a single layer of atoms. These materials have found use in applications such as photovoltaics, semiconductors, electrodes and water purification.”

You can find 640 articles on 2D materials at PlasticsToday.

Lastly, I was curious why some technologies that appear smoking hot from this editor’s chair were omitted, for example Robotics/Collaborative Robotics. It seems that growing market and any others fell off the list only because it had either “went mainstream” (which was the case here), changed form (as with wearable technology) or simply fell in relative terms versus hotter tech (for example, AR/VR).

You can find the Lux “20 for 2020” Executive Report PDF for download here.

What It's Like Living With Audi's e-tron Mid-Size Crossover EV

Design News - Tue, 2019-11-12 05:00
The 2019 Audi e-tron has sporty styling that should appeal to even non-EV shoppers. (Image source: Audi)

As new cars emerge, and charging infrastructure improves, one obstacle to electric vehicle adoption will be getting drivers comfortable with new routines and habits for keeping their cars energized.

To explore this further, Design News recently spent a weekend with Audi’s e-tron electric SUV and also experienced the 150-kilowatt DC fast charging available for the car on the Electrify America charging network.

The e-tron is a handsome, capable, and quick two-row, five-seat crossover SUV that provides the kind of practicality and style that is converting consumers away from sedans. This mid-size segment is the largest in the luxury car market. And our test car’s base price of $74,800 is solidly in premium car territory, but reasonable for a prestige brand like Audi, even when options run the bottom line to our car’s $86,840. Audi’s cars remain eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit as an offset.

The e-tron's dashboad display shows charging progress. (Image source: Audi)

It is similar in size, appearance, and price to Audi’s own Q8 crossover SUV. Its electric rivals include the homelier Tesla Model X and the smaller Jaguar I-Pace. The e-tron features a 95 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, compared to a 100 kWh pack for the Model X and 90 kWh for the I-Pace.

The EPA says the Model X can go more than 300 miles on a charge, while the I-Pace is rated at 240 miles and the e-tron claims 204 miles. But all of these vehicles are incredibly sensitive to driving speed, ambient temperature, and other variables that can have a large effect on their actual driving range.

The (In)Convenience of Fast Charging

The e-tron’s charging port hides behind an electrically-operated panel in the driver’s side front fender, and the home charging adapter lies in the car’s front trunk. Charging at home using a 240-volt 9.6 kW Level 2 charger should bring a depleted battery up to 80 percent charge overnight. Achieving a full charge using the standard 120-volt 1.2 kW charger seems like it could take until shortly after the Sun balloons into a gas giant, as the tediously slow charging rate slows further as the battery starts to fill up.

Attempting to charge from 80 percent overnight on the 120-volt charger saw the charging rate slow to just half a mile of driving range added per hour of charging. Fortunately, we had nearby access to one of Electrify America’s 350 kW DC fast chargers. The e-tron can’t charge that fast, topping out at 150 kW, but the Porsche Taycan will be able to use the full power available for the speediest possible charges.

The e-tron carries its portable home charger in its front truck. (Image source: Audi)

Electrify America says it will have 500 charging locations nationwide by the end of this year, across 42 states and 17 metro areas. Charging isn’t free, but e-tron buyers get their first 1,000 kWh for no charge, which is enough to travel about 2,000 miles. At a 50 percent state of battery charge, the Electrify America stations pour electrons into the e-tron at the rate of 365 miles of driving range per hour of charging time!

The Electrify America “pump” features a big video screen that walks the customer through the process of using it. Unlike charging systems that require membership or use of a smartphone app, the Electrify America fast charger is just like a gas pump, so you need only swipe a credit card to get energy for your car.

While it is in progress, the charger’s screen shows the current state of charge in the battery. When you’re done, it displays a summary of the energy delivered, the time spent charging, the battery’s final state of charge, and the amount charged to the credit card.

In our case, the e-tron took 42.7 kWh of juice in 18 minutes, ending at 81 percent charge at a cost of $17.03. Fast charging regularly isn’t good for an EV’s battery, and it also isn’t good for the driver’s wallet. Charging EVs at home is much cheaper than buying gas.

Paying for the convenience of fast charging is more expensive though, as that 42.7 kWh yields about 100 miles of driving range in the e-tron. That is the equivalent of $3.40 gas in a 20-mpg crossover SUV at a time when gas in my neighborhood is a dollar cheaper than that.

The lesson here is to charge at home with a Level 2 charger whenever possible and save fast charges for highway trips. Audi reports that today’s EV owners do 80 percent of their charging at home.

The e-tron's navigation system projects predicted driving range onto the car's map display. (Image source: Audi)

Also, unfortunately, the Electrify America chargers and Audi’s cars are currently in some kind of a dispute in which the software can’t reliably agree on when it is safe to release the charging plug from the car. This left me cursing them both while going through the door-unlock-plug-release-button sequence for about 10 minutes until it miraculously finally disconnected and I wasn’t left to Uber home from an abandoned car. Audi says the two companies are working together to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

A Combustion Feel in Everything but the Shifter

Driving the e-tron is similar to driving combustion-powered luxury crossovers, with opulent cabin appointments, sure-footed all-wheel drive, and muscular acceleration. The electric powertrain is rated at 355 horsepower in normal driving modes, with 402 horsepower available in Boost Mode. Boost Mode lasts a maximum of 8 seconds, but the e-tron only needs 5.5 of those seconds to reach 60 mph.

Audi e-tron shifter is unusual, but functional. (Image source: Audi)

Our test car included the optional $650 towing package, which certifies the e-tron to pull a trailer weighing as much as 4,000 lbs. We’ll have to schedule another visit with the e-tron to learn what towing does to electric driving range. Driving range without a trailer, in normal around-town conditions, seemed to track right along with the EPA’s 204-mile range rating, though very hot or cold weather would be expected to take a bite out of that.

The e-tron features Audi’s innovative Traffic Light Information (TLI) system, which displays a countdown to the changes of upcoming traffic lights if they are instrumented to provide the data. The TLI system makes waiting for a light to change much more bearable, as we’re no longer waiting in ignorance of the duration.

The cabin climate control seemed underpowered, without ever blowing truly hot air in heat mode. The seat heaters were only adequate in cool fall weather, so neither inspires confidence for true winter cold conditions. Worse, there was no available heated steering wheel for our 2019 test car, but that’s an addition that could potentially arrive as early as the 2020 models.

EV makers often feel the need to distinguish their electric drive vehicles from combustion-powered ones with a unique shifter, and usually these shifters are distinctly inferior to conventional ones. The e-tron’s unusual shifter slides fore-and-aft to select Reverse or Drive, and is topped by an unmoving wrist rest for the lower of the two touchscreens mounted in the center of the dashboard. It looks odd, but works pretty well without obstructing access to that lower touchscreen. However, a conventional shifter that notches through the familiar PRNDL positions, and stays in place as an indication of the gear selected, remains more foolproof.

The e-tron, like the Electrify America charger, demonstrates the impressive current state-of-the-art in electric vehicle technology, as well as the room for continued improvement of this rapidly evolving paradigm. The driveways of upscale middle-class suburban America will be very well served by the e-tron, with less adaptation of expectations when moving from gas power than ever before.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

Did Edison Really Lose a Non-Existent 'Current War?'

Design News - Tue, 2019-11-12 04:30

The Current War is the latest film to retell the major events of the decade-long battle between Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla to bring electricity to America of the late 1800’s. (Does anyone remember the 2006 movie, The Prestige in which David Bowie played Nikola Tesla?) This latest retelling focuses on the personality differences between these great inventors and entrepreneurs, but includes enough technical bits to ensure the film’s interest for electrical, mechanical, and manufacturing engineers. It is well worth the price of admission.

Thomas Edison, play by Benedict Cumberbatch, stands among a field of incandescent bulbs at the beginning of the so-called Current War. (Courtesy of 101 Studio)

The movie concludes at the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago, which served as a visual representation of the early factory electrification in America. The exposition drew an audience of millions to witness the wonders of electricity that would soon light up the entire globe. Further, it marked the timeframe in which Westinghouse defeated Edison by winning a major contract to electrify America with alternating rather than direct current.

Westinghouse clearly won that battle, but did he really win the war? Or was there a war at all? History is nothing if not a continual re-evaluation of the past through the optics of the present. From today’s perspective, both Edison and Tesla – hardly friends at the time - may well be considered victors of the so-called battle between DC and AC power transmission.

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New power distribution systems were required to bring electricity to early factories, buildings, and homes in America. Edison’s first power station was located on Pearl Street in Manhattan, New York. But when he tried to expand his electrical power reach over distances greater than a mile, the power cables lost too much power. Longer copper cables meant greater resistance, resulting in a decrease in voltage (V=IR). At that time, there was no efficient way to increase the DC voltage along the transmission line. In contrast, Westinghouse engineers and Tesla figured out how to build transformers that efficiently stepped-up the voltage, thus allowing for the transmission of power over longer distances. Step-down electrical transformers would then convert the AC signals to back to DC for factories and customers.

Interestingly. Edison knew that AC current could be converted to DC from an earlier observation, but he didn’t seem to act on this knowledge. Edison’s observation did lead British scientist John Ambrose Fleming to develop the “Fleming Diode” to convert an AC signal to a DC one. Years later, the diode vacuum tube was commonly used to convert AC into DC in power supplies for electronic equipment.

The advent of electronic motors and devices would drive renewed interest in the need for DC power. The discovery of semiconductor material in the early 1900’s would further accelerate the growth of DC-based devices. DC power is essential for modern digital devices, from PCs and cellphones to autonomous vehicles and even some alternative energy systems.

This December 1896 clip of Niagara Falls was among Edison’s earliest movie taken with his motion picture machine. (Image source:Library of Congress)

DC networks have even found a way back into the power transmission platforms. The IEEE Spectrum recently reported on a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) system that could challenge existing AC power transmission for modern applications. One of the advantages of HVDC is its easy synchronization with other DC networks, thus greatly reducing cascading power outages, e.g., as experienced by many communities in California’s latest fire season.

The question remains if Edison lost the war of the currents. Some modern historians have questioned Edison’s perceived success at the Pearl Street Station. Others wonder if the current war itself was little more than a hoax or PR stunt by Edison in an effort to demonize the Westinghouse’s AC power system. It’s hard to know for sure.

What is a certainty is that Edison went on to invent technology beyond the DC power systems and the associated incandescent bulb. The Current War ends with one such invention, that of the motion picture camera. It seems fitting that one of his greatest inventions should serve to tell – or retell – his story.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier, and has worked as an affiliate professor at Portland State University and a lecturer at UC-Irvine. He currently serves as a standards editor for IEEE.

Microchip Technology Creates an Automotive Cybersecurity Kit

Design News - Tue, 2019-11-12 04:00

Consumers are now choosing cars partly on available electronics. Connected infotainment networks and advanced driver assistance systems have become as competitive as styling, gas consumption, and reliability. Yet at the same time, the addition of these amenities has added numerous entry points for hackers. A few years ago Ford hired a couple hackers to crack a Jeep Cherokee. They were able to take control of the vehicle’s steering and braking systems after entering the car through the infotainment network.

Microchip Technology has developed a kit for Tier 1 auto suppliers that is designed to make commercial vehicles safe from hacking. (Image source: Microsoft Technology)

The threat of hacking is no small concern. Breeches can potentially lead to recalls, lost revenue, and tarnished brand reputations. The question for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their Tier 1 suppliers is no longer whether the vehicle networks need security but how to implement this security practically and without a costly complete design overhaul.

Protecting the Network

In order to address this challenge,  Microchip Technology has created the CryptoAutomotive In-Vehicle Network (IVN) Trust Anchor/Border Security Device (TA/BSD) development kit. The purpose of the kit is to enable OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to introduce security to networked vehicle systems, offering the highest level of protection with the least disruption in the vehicle’s networks.

The CryptoAutomotive TA/BSD was designed for implementation by Tier 1 auto suppliers. “Tier one suppliers are the main kit customer as they are the ones with the pressure to support the new specifications quickly,” Todd Slack, product manager for automotive security products at Microchip Technology, told Design News. “The kit is designed to make it easier for these suppliers to implement new OEM cybersecurity specifications while reducing risk associated with security code development,”

In order to make sure all aspects of the security are effectively in place, Microchip worked with the carmaker’s engineers directly. “Each OEM has a collection of new cybersecurity specifications and they are not easily understood without security expertise,” said Slack. The kit speeds the proof of concept stage by including sample projects for various secure boot and controller area network (CAN) message authentication schemes.”

Meeting Network Specs and Standards

Slack noted that the CryptoAutomotive TA/BSD was designed to be flexible in order to accommodates each OEM’s implementation. Manufacturers can configure the node to conform to various emerging specs and industry standards. “These new requirements represent sweeping changes by pushing hardware secure boot requirements to nodes that previously had no such requirements,” said Slack. “The same can be said for CAN message authentication.  Most OEMs have not required any cryptographic message authentication whatsoever on the CAN bus.  Depending on the OEM, we’re seeing 20 to 100 nodes per vehicle impacted by the new security requirements.”

The tool demonstrates secure key storage, electronic control unit (ECU) authentication, hardware-based crypto accelerators, and other cryptographic elements. When used with a host microcontroller, it enables designers to implement functions such as secure boot and CAN message authentication, including conversion of CAN 2.0 messages to CAN flexible data rate with appended Message Authentication Codes (MAC) when appropriate. “Connecting two or more kits creates a network to formulate meaningful CAN message authentication schemes and can be tied to existing ECU to ensure interoperability across multiple solutions,” said Slack. “A graphical user interface with drop-down menus is included to make the configuration simple, so a developer can create a multitude of different message groups each with easily customizable options for message size, MAC type and freshness values which can be accomplished the first day they open the kit.”

Security Without Disturbing Adjacent MCUs

Microchip provides a comprehensive approach to automotive security. With the companion approach, the TA/BSD emulation kit enables OEMs to continue using their MCUs and, more importantly, existing MCU firmware certified to required safety standards by later adding the companion chip the kit emulates. These companion chips will come to the customer preprogrammed and include built-in security measures to provide true hardware-based key protection. “We have worked closely with OEMs during the specification creation process and provided kits to their engineering teams to support OEM research projects focused on security scheme implementation and interoperability,” said Slack.

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The tool can be used with any ECU architecture, configuration, or bus, providing the flexibility to implement security in existing systems without large-scale redesigns. This approach also removes the requirement for in-house security expertise. The tool provides an online graphical user interface program with pre-configured options to simplify and facilitate implementation.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Soft Actuators Make Robots Nimble and Less Unwieldy

Design News - Tue, 2019-11-12 03:30

With robots eyed to work alongside humans and perform more complex tasks in the future, researchers have been working to create soft components and actuators that can meet these requirements.

Some of the latest research in this area is from engineers at the University of California (UC) San Diego, which have developed new, tubular soft actuators with electrically controlled movements that allows them to be integrated with small electronic components, they said.

Electrically controlled, untethered soft robot built out of four soft tubular actuators, a microcontroller, and battery. The robot can be programmed to walk or carry an object. (Image source: David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering)

Soft actuators are those that are made from soft materials or highly deformable structures, and their benefit is that they have a higher degree of freedom as well as can have “friendly” interaction with humans, said Qiguang He, a mechanical and aerospace engineering Ph.D. student at the university’s Jacobs School of Engineering. He worked on the project, which was led by UC San Diego mechanical and aerospace engineering Professor Shengqiang Cai.

The actuators the team designed are simple tubular actuators that allow for multidirectional bending deformation as well as homogeneous contraction, he told Design News.

“This unique character enable this tubular actuator can be applied to diverse engineering applications such as soft gripper and walking robot,” He told us.

Battle of the Bulk

While researchers have made significant advancements in developing soft actuators,  they are still controlled by pumping either air or fluids through chambers inside of the components, researchers said. To build robots with these actuators, then, requires the devices to be tethered to pumps, large power sources, and other specialized equipment, which creates bulk and makes them rather unwieldy, they said.

Controlling actuators with electricity allows scientists to build robots that lose some of this bulk, making them more streamlined and user-friendly, He said.

“We can use relatively low electrical potential (1.5 V to 3 V) to activate the large deformation of our soft actuator, [so] we do not require additional bulky pumps, valves, and voltage amplifiers except commercial electrical components like controller and battery, which greatly simplifies the whole system,” he told Design News.

Researchers achieved this by creating actuators from a type of material used for artificial muscles in robots, called liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) that are composed of liquid-crystal molecules embedded in a stretchy polymer network. These materials change shape, move, and contract in response to stimuli such as heat or electricity, which is similar to how muscles in the human body contract in response to nerve signals, researchers said.

Material Consideration

To construct each actuator, engineers sandwiched three heating wires between two thin films of liquid crystal elastomer and then rolled the material into a tube, which is pre-stretched and exposed to UV light.

Key to the actuator’s design is that each heating wire can be controlled independently to make the tube bend in six different directions, researchers said.

When an electric current is passed through one or two of the wires, it heats up part of the tube and makes it bend in the direction of those wires. Passing a current through all three wires makes the entire tube contract, which shortens its length. If the electricity is turned off, it allows the tube to slowly cool down and return to its original shape, researchers said.

“Through locally controlling certain part of LCE, local contraction can be generated,” He told Design News. “If one heating wire is applied to the electrical potential, the multidirectional bending movement can be realized. If all heating wires are applied to electrical potential, homogeneous contraction can be generated.”

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Science Advances.

To prove their concept, engineers used these new actuators to build two robots—a soft, battery-powered robot that can walk untethered on flat surfaces and move objects, and a soft gripper that can grasp and pick up small objects.

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Researchers plan to continue their work to develop actuators that can move faster. The current actuators take about 30 seconds to fully bend and contract, and up to four minutes to return to their original shapes. Ultimately, researchers want actuators that can contract and relax as quickly as human muscles, He said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.