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Alcohol Powered Muscles 164

ianchaos writes "In an article on ScienCentral News, Scientists at the University of Texas are using alcohol to power artificial muscles. From the article: 'Usually the only alcohol-powered muscles are the ones in barroom brawls, but one scientist is adding alcohol to artificial muscles to power robots and more.'"
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Alcohol Powered Muscles

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  • by Winlin ( 42941 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:04PM (#15283248)
    Or these researchers have been watching just a bit too much Cartoon network.
  • Great Idea (Score:3, Funny)

    by mikejz84 ( 771717 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:05PM (#15283252)
    Finally a fuel for Congressman other than self-righteous indignation.
  • Well... (Score:2, Funny)

    by rnelsonee ( 98732 )
    I know at least one 'muscle' that really gets going when there's a lot of alcohol in me...


  • by Council ( 514577 ) <> on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:08PM (#15283267) Homepage
    And that, children, was when Slashdot's ratio of non-Bender-related comments to Bender-related comments began its inexorable slide toward zero.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:13PM (#15283280)
    I could have told you that alcohol makes you stronger and more confident. Do they really need a scientist to figure that one out?
  • I had a few friends in college that had "Beer Muscles", (i.e. get a few in you, and you think you can take on the world)
  • How well can current grain production be scaled up? I mean, if this is gonna be useful, and ethanol cars or ethanol additives to gas, is there enough dormant grain production to take that up? I know that the US has subsidies, so there is dormant production, but is it enough?
    • Obviously the solution is grain production robots.
    • one of the hot research items in alternative energy is genetically modified yeast that can convert cellulose, not just sugar, to alchohol. this way, you only need plant matter such as wood, paper, grass
      • For the record, cellulose IS sugar, it's just a polymerized version of it (as is glycogen in people, and starch in potatos.) However, not just everything can break down the cellulose polymer. Plants, bacteria, and some unicellular animals can, but not multicellular animals unless they have an intestinal system full of aforementioned unicellular beasties. If you're really curious here's a diagram [] of the structural difference between starch and cellulose.
        • nah, polymer has different chemical and physical properties than building blocks. Burn a pound of wood in your fireplace one night, then a pound of glucose the next. Post the photos and contractor repair estimates on the web so we can laugh at you.
          • What? They're both carbohydrates with practically the same chemical formula and practically the same chemical energy, meaning if I burned them in a calorimeter they'd show basically the same numbers. If I burnt them both in a high-temperature incinerator you couldn't tell the difference. Starch and cellulose are just different ways of storing sugars, and as far as the body is concerned, sugars are just the way you store acetyl (two-carbon-with-benefits) groups. They're all just different exchange media
            • Taste some sugar. Taste some wood or cotton. Eat some sugar one day. Then eat some sawdust the next (well, get some lawyer or politician to do it). Compare weight and consistency of turds. Something is different, two different chemicals. And I bet your high-temperature incinerator gets some sticky hard-to-remove gunk in its chimney with the sugar.
              • Okay, let's go with that. Taste some sugar from honey. Taste some sugar from the sugar bowl. They both taste sweet, don't they? Guess what? The sugar from the sugar bowl is a polymer. *just* *exactly* *like* starch. It converts from its polymer form, one glucose and one fructose stuck together, into the monomers and *then* isomerizes from fructose into glucose, in a millisecond in your mouth. That's *exactly* the same thing that starch does, but because it's a big polymer rather than a small one, it
                • yup, all that's right. except huge difference in cellulose that every other sugar molecule is "flipped over" or upside down, while in starch they aren't. Big difference chemically, when it comes to soluability or digestion.
    • by c_fel ( 927677 ) on Monday May 08, 2006 @08:12AM (#15284308) Homepage
      Anyway this kind of technology is far far away from production. I had the chance to work with these shape memory alloys (I made a small walking robot for a resaerch project at University) , and what we can read in the article is only the good side of them. In fact there are too many downsides yet :

      1. The contraction speed is very fast, but the decontraction is very slow. This is because it's really easy to heat a metal at a high speed, using eather a heat source or electricity (I used electricity cause it's simpler), but to cool it at the same speed, you would need a cool liquid to flow through the wire. And to use two liquids in alternance means that you must have a hydraulic system for each fiber you want to contract/release.

      2. The article says these "muscles" are strong. This is not the case. At least they could be used to move a tiny robot insect, but if you need to put the hydraulic cooling thing, forget it.

      3. It's really hard to control the exact length of the muscle. Other than "completely long" or "completely short", you have a great time setting exactly the good temperature for a specific length. That is because these muscles have a great hysteresis curve, and two temperatures can give two lengths.

      4. That is enough.

      For those you are interested and french speaking, here's the article I wrote on the robot I made : []
  • I'll stick with Diet Pepsi instead of sucking down a Miller to power my muscles. My local gym has a strict no-alcohol policy.
  • Is this related to that great Canadian invention, the Molson Muscle? []

  • by Malor ( 3658 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:20PM (#15283306) Journal
    "Beer, stat! There's too much blood in my alcohol supply!"
  • by kitsunewarlock ( 971818 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:29PM (#15283331) Journal
    ...Chuck Norris' sweat must be like 198 proof.
  • Wanted: A surgeon who will replace my muscles with the ones mentioned in TFA so I have a legitimate excuse to drink as much as I do.
  • When alcohol was added, it reacted with the oxygen in the air, burning up and releasing heat. The catalyst on the surface of the wire made the combustion of the alcohol proceed at a faster rate.
    What happen when robots are splashed with alcohol...oops
  • by protolith ( 619345 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:48PM (#15283376)
    I Got your Alcohol Powered Muscle Right Here
  • by kcbrown ( 7426 )
    "Scientists". At the University of Texas. Powering "artificial" muscles. With alcohol.

    Well, 2 out of 4 isn't bad...

    Ah, the things college students will think of when they've had a bit too much to drink...

    ;-) for the humor impaired...

  • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:52PM (#15283381)
    There's a blanket term for this, we're called Irish.
  • University of Texas? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The slashdot submission is wrong; the muscles are being developed at the University of Texas at Dallas. "University of Texas" is our satellite campus in Austin. >:(
  • by foniksonik ( 573572 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:53PM (#15283386) Homepage Journal
    For many years I've thought of a mechanism for artificial muscles which didn't perfectly mimic either natural muscles, arthropods (hydraulics) or typical electrical motor joints.

    It's based on the idea of muscles, that they exist in perpetual tension, so that to create motion via contraction you don't create more tension on one side of the bone, instead you simply relax the tension on one side and allow the existing tension on the other side to fully exert itself.

    One way of achieving this would be to use thousands of taut wires each attached at one end to the 'bone' via a ligament like structure that would reinforce them... basically you could just braid them all together near the attachment point, and also attached to a motor that would wind or unwind them along it's circumference... thereby tightening or loosening the 'muscle'. This first muscle would be counterbalanced on the opposite side of the bone by a muscle with attachment points inverted, so that for an arm there would be a motor at the elbow and one at shoulder, each controlling one muscle in the arrangement. By rotating each motor only slightly for the degree of motion desired, you could pivot the arm at the shoulder with the strength and force of the movement only limited by the tensile strength of the materials used. By keeping the muscles under tension 'while at rest' there would be a very fast reaction time, similar to any spring based mechanical movement... think hard drive coil... ie: very fast quick twitch response... and at the same time the tension would also provide stiffness and immediate torque for heavy lifting type movements.

    I'm sure other more sophisticated arrangements could be conceived, some using hydraulics or next gen materials like this memory wire... but the point is to use constant tension to produce very controlled, precise, quick, strong movements or long elastic fluid movements as desired... rather than no tension single point of torque/force which leads to poor control, etc.

    my 0.2 on artificial muscles

    • that would work very well for systems that are mostly in use, however it would be wasteful to use electricity to pull the cables all the time

      perhapse a system where a computer would decide when to use positive force for motion and when to use negative force for motion.
      • Why use electricity to pull? This could be implemented wholly mechanically using computers only to udjust tension as needed. No more power that needed to run a home box.
        • and provide enough torque to stabilize the the tension in the braided wires. not to mention actually maintaining torque while ravelling or unravelling them. how are you going to do that without the same amount of power as in the electric push/pull case?
        • adjusting the tension will require just as much juice no matter how you do it, the benefit will be when you need either a surge of strength or speed, both things that current mechanical limbs suck at. electric servo operated arms will never be able to effectively bitch-slap someone.
    • For your concept to work, the "wires" would have to have some sort of reasonable spring constant that would allow you to set up a constant tension of your choice in them. To wind these tightly enough to make them have relatively constant length under a certain level of stress, a system would need a motor/gear system capable of producing high torque. Unfortunately, the system would have limitations. It could never apply a constant force, as the force it produces is related to the displacement (extension)
    • Sounds like you want it to be based on a high-potential equilibrium rather than a low-potential case, which means that there's a lot of energy to release if that equilibrium is somehow disrupted. I wouldn't want to be standing anywhere nearby if any part of the system breaks/malfunctions, because the remaining pieces will be going somewhere unpredictable and doing so hard and fast. Not what I would call a safe failure mode...
      • The whole point of the idea is that this does imitate real muscles in at least one way.... which is the constant "high-potential equilibrium" as you put it.

        Just think about what would happen if you cut one of your ligaments near the bone very quickly... the muscle will snap back violently, especially if it was in th process of contracting, though the affect would differ depending on which attachment point you cut.

        • I saw it happen to a buddy of mine with his Achiles tendon; we were playing some basketball and he went up for a rebound and comes down akwardly [he weighs 300+]. POP! His is calf rolled up along with the tendon; not too coo :-/
  • From TFA:
    In one experiment, Baughman used alcohol to fuel the movement of these artificial muscles. His team coated the shape memory wire with a chemical called a catalyst. When alcohol was added, it reacted with the oxygen in the air, burning up and releasing heat.

    While the whole alcohol bit makes for a great article, the technology is really in the wire. The only purpose for the alcohol here is in an exothermic reaction that causes the memory wire to heat up and contract. Don't we already have a million ways of doing that that don't prompt the requisite Futurama jokes?

    I also fail to see the promise in this technology. It apparently has its advantages over fluid power (at least enough to warrant researching), but lacks reliability and efficiency? A quick venture to Wikipedia [] tells us "these materials are not currently appropriate for applications such as robotics or artificial muscles, due to energy inefficiency, slow response times, and large hysteresis." AFAICT there are still far too many questions keeping this tech from prime time.

    For instance, how many contractions do you get before the material is exhausted? Is it like a rechargable battery where after a certain number of contractions you get ever diminishing returns from the wire?

    What effect do the chemical reagents have on the physical properties of the wire? Is there a pair of exothermic reagents that will not corrode or degrade the wire over the long term?

    What about the strength of the wire? Can you accurately fine-tune it to exert a controlled force over a given distance? What about releasing the tension in the wire? Would that require another force acting in an opposite direction, or do you just have to wait for the wire to cool off?

    Sounds cool. Just not terribly promising.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I also fail to see the promise in this technology

      Do you have absolutely no imagination? By those standards, flesh and blood-powered muscles are also pretty damn terrible. Flesh muscles are slow, get tired and aren't particularly efficient. Except that the technical problems with the artificial muscle are eventually going to be solvable.

      My point is that because these muscles are similar in operation to human muscles, they're an interesting branch of technology that could one day enable building humanoid robo
    • Solutions.

      Fine-grained control: Connect muscles in series. Using feedback, trigger increasingly more of them as more contraction is needed.

      Lifespan: Include a huge number of the strings in parallel. Using feedback, determine when one is wearing out, and start using a 2nd (at the same time) to slowly take over for it as it ages. With enough of these in parallel, a robotic arm could last a terribly long time.

      You have obviously never designed robots :-)

      Silly "computer scientists." Engineers rule.
  • I do believe there's a Bender joke in there somewhere.
  • TFA says that alcohol is a fuel, but it doesn't say that this is the only fuel for the muscles- Bio-Diesel is mentioned. This means that maybe alcohol isn't necessarily the best fuel.

    However, for the sake of humor, science fiction, and the way I think the future should look, we must stop research now, while we're still using booze.

    In other news, Luxco [] stock is up thirty points.

  • Not quite (Score:3, Funny)

    by EZLeeAmused ( 869996 ) on Monday May 08, 2006 @12:03AM (#15283408)
    Actually, the artificial muscles in the article were powered by heat; they just used burning alcohol to generate that heat. It didn't say how much waste heat was generated in the process, but you probably wouldn't want a prototype prosthetic strapped to you.

    Now, artificial intelligence powered by alcohol would be ... no wait, that already exists. Pretty much all alcohol-powered intelligence is artificial.

  • The robotic muscles displayed a grossly inflated sense of self esteem, hit on female researchers, and told dirty jokes before demanding burritos and finally passing out.
  • by a gash ( 891166 ) on Monday May 08, 2006 @12:22AM (#15283452)
    We already have this technology, it's called Teamsters!
  • Judging by his diction, I suspect that "Slur" Stallone may have discovered this years ago.
  • by Will2k_is_here ( 675262 ) on Monday May 08, 2006 @12:56AM (#15283514)
    Here's some Simpsons:

    "One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me."
  • The Future (Score:2, Funny)

    by MagicDude ( 727944 )
    (Scene - Local pub, 20 years from now)

    MagicDude: ... so I said that's no cell phone, it's a lobster.
    Bluto: Arrgh, your jokes suck, and I'm taking your woman.
    MagicBabe: Help me MagicDude. Heeeeeeeelllllp
    (Cue Popeye Music)
    (Reach inside shirt, pull out beer can. Squeeze contents into air and drink in one gulp).
    MagicDude: Time to open up a Beowolf Cluster of Pain on your butt.
  • Some of my friends get kinda, um, how to say this delicately.......well they know that alcohol powers muscles..
  • After dowsing those muscles with alcohol, they do really stupid things and get tired really fast.
  • ...17oz lift....16oz lift......... 1oz lift..... 18oz lift.....

    This is a sophisticated weight training programme known
    as stripping :)

  • I know my strength always increases after a couple of healthy doses of alcohol. However, the day after my body thinks the opposite, I've got all these bruises and strained muscles. What am I doing wrong?
  • This is why Bonds will never outdo Ruth... wrong muscle enhancer.
  • Surely the next step now is to build something with artificial muscles and chlorophyll-containing leaves, so that it can produce its own energy by photosynthesis -- using nothing more than carbon dioxide and daylight?
  • When I submitted this story months ago, I had the decency to make a Bender joke!
  • Just imagine if Popeye had used beer instead of spinach. Brutus wouldn't have lived to keep pestering Olive oil
  • It ain nuddin but alkahol pwreing my mussles!!!111
  • Do they have to drink to stay sober? ;)
  • I dont NEED to drink!
  • So this must mean that your robot is about to also become your best drinking buddy. Does it get better than that?
  • This sounds like the myomer technology used to allow battlemechs to move around in the battletech universe. UT is also conducting railgun research, the Air Force is testing airborne anti-ballistic lasers, and we already have a new vehicular anti-missile system (Trophy ADS). All we need now is a fusion reactor to power a tank and we'll be one step closer to hearing "Reactor: Online, Sensors: Online, Weapons: Online, All Systems Nominal."

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas