[drool] Nanotube Muscle Fibres Create Superhuman Strength

Researchers at the University of Texas have developed a technique to create artificial muscle fibres using Carbon Nanotubes woven into a yarn a mere 2 microns thick. Each fibre has a strength equal to 100 times that of equivalent human muscle fibres. It is a expected that there will have revolutionary consequences for the prosthetic limb and robotics fields. I wonder whether the long-term outlook will be for elective muscular enhancement. Imagine having your strength augmented (invisibly) by 100 times. Just 10 times would probably create a such a sense of ease and well being, that it would be worth the money. Imagine all those who currently suffer from wasting or spastic muscleature.

I wonder if they would be able to attach these fibres to bones? What kind of control infrastructure would it take to control these fibres. I imagine that at human scales these muscles might have to be paired up with ceramic bones – I imagine bones might seem a bit more fragile when we have the possibility to exert these kinds of forces.

It appears that these yarns are not very elastic, and so can become slack over time. There are also problems of scaling these yarns up to human dimensions. Hopefully, these issues are not show stoppers – I would REALLY like to see this technology come to fruition.

Nanotube Muscle Fibres
Fig. 1. Nanotube Muscle Fibres

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6 comments

  1. Even once this technology is more practical, using it within existing muscles is a very long way off, of course. I don’t believe bones or muscle tissue would be able to take that kind of strain. In addition, it’s hard to imagine how the fibers could be implanted within and attached to existing muscles, unless some sort of nanotechnology were to be developed in the future that could work on the cellular scale. And some way for the fibers to be innervated would have to be developed as well.

    It would be nice to be able to treat diseases, though unfortunately, most of these are due to problems with nerves or the junction between the nerves and the muscles, not the muscles themselves. In any case, by the time we develop the technology that would be needed to implant and connect these fibers at tiny scales, we’ll probably have better treatments for those other problems as well.

    But this could potentially be very useful for machines or for fully prosthetic limbs.

  2. Hi Darmok,

    Of course, you’re right about the difficulties of integrating a technology like this with Human v1.0, but lets take a look at the kind of technologies needed for this sort of thing to be practical.

    A solid skeleton capable of withstanding the forces exerted by such muscles. Perhaps nanotube composites, or the kind of extremely strong plastics occasionally used in engine blocks? The requirement here is for low weight (unless the whole skeleton is replaced), high rigidity and with a suitable surface to attach the flibres, sensors and power supplies to. perhaps they could also contain the power supplies and control cables?

    A means to attach the muscle fibres to the skeleton. Perhaps The same epoxies, or maybe Van Der Waals forces? Microscopic velcro?

    Control cables (nerves) to actuate the muscle fibres. These would need to be flexible, robust, high bandwidth, and low error-rate. Over the distances involved in the human body, any sort of wire cable might suffice, as would thin fibreoptic cables.

    An interface to bridge the gap between the peripheral nervous system and the control apparatus of the new muscles. Solutions already exist for these problems – cochlear and retinal implants employ them.

    Propriaceptive feedback between the muscles and the peripheral nervous system. Not so sure about this – how would we know how flexed the muscles are? They would have to be innervated, as you say.

    An energy source for the muscles – again I have no idea what sort of power requirements these muscles would have, or whether there is a means (other than batteries) to power them.

    There’s no doubt that converting breakthroughs like this constitutes a major challenge, but when you also look at the current state of the art in materials technology (I’m no expert BTW, just an awe-struck admirer!), it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

  3. You’re right; those technologies are still distant, but not that far off. My main point was that those are all difficulties in constructing, say, a prosthetic limb, but it would be exceptionally difficult to integrate them into an already existing limb. Implanting these fibers within the muscle would seem to require complex surgery on the muscle (and would involve a long recovery time), and one would need some way to transduce the chemical signals from neurons to electrical signals that the control cables would transmit to the nano-fibers.

    But I agree with you; it will eventually be possible. (I won’t hold my breath for this one, though.)

  4. It seems like only a few years ago that I was avidly reading about these technologies in the pages of science fiction books and thinking that I’d never see these wonders in my lifetime. Now, paradigm busting technologies are reported in sites like kurzweilAI.net every day…

    We already have the beginnings of technologies for direct neural interlink, huge computational and storage capabilities, super-strong, super-light materials, and ever more potent power supplies. I think we have passed the elbow of the exponential curve of technological singularity. The advent of the prerequisites for human v2.0 are closer than either of us can imagine.

    And I for one would be happy to trade in this worn out v1.0 body for something that didn’t swamp my mental bandwidth with pain signals all the time. Surely an engineer could produce a more stable, and durable skeleton than what we currently have to tolerate? I can’t help but think that the weird design for a spine is a kludge. :-(

    Yours,

    Chronic {Back, Neck, Migraine} Sufferer.

  5. my name is kieth anderson and i was wondering if you are able to put that into a human body all over and if you could would that person be able to controle his power, if yes on both accounts i would like to….. sponsor you so to speake providing you with a 2.5 million dollar check in return you could test that on me if all goes well i would be more than happy to up the price of sponsorship.

  6. Makes more sense to adapt artificial spider
    silk technology to create stronger tendons, and
    some parallel technology to increase bone density
    to that of wild animals. These two factors alone
    will allow greater exertions with existing muscle
    fibers.

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