Scientists Use DNA Supercoiling Technique to Produce Muscles for Miniature Robots

The possible applications of this development are countless.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Micro-scissor (left) and micro-tweezer (right)University of Wollongong

University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers have taken inspiration from DNA supercoiling to produce miniature muscles that can work with the tiniest of robots, according to a study published in Science Robotics. The innovation could revolutionize how we tackle miniature robotics.

"Our work describes a new type of artificial muscle that mimics the way that DNA molecules collapse when packing into the cell nucleus," Professor Geoffrey Spinks from UOW’s Australian Institute for Innovative Materials said in a statement.

"We were able to create DNA-like unwinding by swelling twisted fibers. Supercoiling occurred when the fiber ends were blocked against rotation. We show that these new artificial muscles generate a large amount of mechanical work."

You can watch the researchers trial the new muscles on possible applications such as micro-scissors and micro-tweezers with arms below:

Before you get too excited about the potential applications of this new invention, it should be noted that the movements of these new artificial muscles are still too slow at the moment to be put to use. 

"We have used hydrogels to generate the volume changes that drive the supercoiling but that response is inherently slow," Dr. Javad Foroughi from UOW’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, co-author of the research paper, said. The next step for the researchers will be to speed up the response.

"We do believe that the speed can be increased by making smaller diameter fibers, but right now the applications are limited to those that need a slower response," Professor Spinks added.

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So what could this development mean for robotics? It may make current tiny robots more agile by allowing them more range of motion. For instance, we can imagine it being applied to HAMR-JR robots to increase their agility.

Perhaps, it could even be used in the case of miniature robots that are meant to crawl inside the human body for medicinal purposes. Imagine robots that could actually better direct themselves when entering the human body to deliver treatment or search for sources of illness!

The applications for this invention are many and they could prove very fruitful for humanity.

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