Electric muscles

Could you beat the EAP? At the recent artificial arm-wrestling contest, you almost certainly would have. EAP stands for electroactive polymer, also known as artificial muscle, and earlier this month, the best
artificial arms wrestled with a human opponent and lost decisively. (Note: the human opponent was a girl!)

We always hear about artificial intelligence, but never artificial muscle. Why? Because electric motors do our heavy lifting. But muscles have some powerful advantages over motors. When it comes to “real” muscle (that is, stretchy springy animal-like fibers) we are ignorant and unskilled. But good progress is being made, and when we have cheap reliable robot muscle, all kinds of interesting things will become possible. Even the simplest motor is quite complicated, but muscle offers quiet, cheap, scalable functionality. The potential for a wiggly landscape is appealingly weird. Perhaps your car will motor along on cilia. Your computer will be cooled by miniature lungs. And the Lazy Susan will stop being lazy, choosing instead to carry the mashed potatoes to your plate on tiny legs. If you could reel out electric muscle by the yard, Christmas tree lights might also be employed to have the tree dance and twist. Garden hoses could slither their way to the dry part of the lawn. Artificial muscle is a much bigger story than it first appears to be.

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