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May 21st, 2007
Particularly encouraging is research into artificial muscles comprising sheets of carbon nanotubes - big cylindrical molecules of pure carbon with unusual electrical and mechanical properties. When an electrical voltage is applied gradually, ions inside the carbon move to one side, bending the nanotube sheets.
The speed and extent to which the sheets bend depend on how fast and by how much the power is increased. When the power is switched off, the sheets unbend and return to their original shape. This allows the artificial muscles to work like humans' opposing muscle groups.
Some of these materials might be used for android fingers in the future, predicts Professor Jarvis, who favours Nitinol, which bends or stretches when heated by an electric current. MIT researchers in the United States, on the other hand, are developing skin that senses, and can stop, something slipping through an android's fingers.
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