Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Blimp With Muscle

Artificial muscles have the potential to revolutionize robotics. So far, they aren't very powerful or durable, but they're slowly improving and finding applications, as detailed in this New Scientist article.
Researchers believe artificial muscles – plastics that stretch when a high electrical voltage is applied – could be a way to mimic nature's efficiency at accomplishing tasks. Using the technology, future robots may be able to "run on Mars like a cheetah, climb a mountain or a cliff like a gecko, or fly like a bird", says Yoseph Bar-Cohen, a physicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US.

Now, a team from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research in Dübendorf have developed a 6-metre-long blimp steered by artificial muscles.
This week, the team directed the blimp's rudder to steer the airship left, right, up or down at the International Society for Optical Engineering's Electroactive-Polymers Actuators and Devices conference in San Diego, California, US. The blimp is currently able to fly for only 20 minutes on its battery.

Silvain Michel, head of the electroactive polymers department at the laboratory, hopes to fly a blimp that is not only steered but also powered by artificial muscles within two years. The blimp's tail would wriggle like a trout to propel it through the air.

Michel said the blimps could be used for wildlife or crowd observations in place of noisy helicopters. "If this is possible, then we would have a very quiet, very efficient propulsion system for an airship," Michel told New Scientist.

No comments: