Shape-memory alloys that change shape when heated could become tiny mechanical muscles for electronic devices. New mechanical devices based on the alloys produce three to six times more torque than electric motors, and weigh just one-20th as much.
Such devices, known as actuators, can be cut from a flat sheet of metal just a fraction of a millimeter thick. They emerged from a roject that aims to build printable robots, where the robots would consist of both the metal actuators and plastic components that could be built layer-by-layer through a process similar to inkjet printing.
The shape-memory actuators might eventually exert a force up to 160 times their own weight.
For now, the current actuators can already make use of their energy-sipping efficiency to run on batteries, and have helped create a wirelessly-controlled rolling robot that resembles a runaway tank tread. We're also excited to see more examples of creations such as the robo-bat.
More images are available at MIT's slideshow here.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.