As the uptake of 3D printing across so many different sectors continues apace, it is the applications of the technology that continue to amaze and inspire — mostly in a good way. In another such application, which is research-based, at UWE in the West Country (or Bristol, UK) scientists have developed a working ‘artificial muscle’ that works in a similar way to the human heart muscle.
This remarkable project brings many scientific premises together — biological and technological. The central concept is a pump mechanism that “uses the gas released by live yeast to generate pressure and distend a membrane, turning it into an artificial muscle. A valve – activated by electricity produced by a microbial fuel cell – controls the movement of the membrane. It opens to release pressure when the muscle is fully expanded, allowing it to shrink back to its resting state again to begin another cycle.”
The pump itself is where 3D printing plays its part as the rigid components of the system were produced directly using the technology as well as indirectly for producing moulds from which flexible silicone parts were generated.
In terms of the aims and objectives for the project, the UWE scientists are working in collaboration with Ecobot, a robot that can ‘digest’ food and human sewage to power itself. The end goal here is to get Ecobot feeding off of the pump’s waste created by the yeast — research and experimentation is reportedly ongoing. New models of the pump are also under investigation with a view to pumping liquid, in order to circulate the food for Ecobot’s microbial fuel cell, which in turn could then power the yeast pump.
According to the team: “In the future, the robotic pulsing could be used in art and design. It could serve as an artificial heartbeat for a cyborg-like machine.”
Source: New Scientist