In the field of robotics, researchers are continually looking for the fastest, strongest, most efficient and lowest-cost ways to actuate, or enable, robots to make the movements needed to carry out their intended functions.

The quest for new and better actuation technologies and ‘soft’ robotics is often based on principles of biomimetics, in which machine components are designed to mimic the movement of human muscles — and ideally, to outperform them. Despite the performance of actuators like electric motors and hydraulic pistons, their rigid form limits how they can be deployed. As robots transition to more biological forms and as people ask for more biomimetic prostheses, actuators need to evolve.

Associate professor (and alum) Michael Shafer and professor Heidi Feigenbaum of Northern Arizona University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, along with graduate student researcher Diego Higueras-Ruiz, published a paper in Science…

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