As a rule, bionic hands are clunky contraptions made of motors, pneumatics and other machinery that just can’t be as elegant as the real thing. Germany’s Saarland University might just change that, however. Its researchers have developed an artificial hand that uses smart nitinol (nickel titanium) wires as its muscles. All you do to make them flex is heat them up or cool them down — the metal ‘remembers’ its original shape before you bend it, so you don’t need bulky equipment to move it back and forth. The wire bundles are as thin as cotton, but they’re very strong and can move with much more precision and speed than usual. They don’t even need sensors, since electrical resistance in the wires themselves is enough.
While the technology is still very young (scientists are still trying to recreate hand movement), the potential is unmistakable. This wire-based muscle are ideal for creating prosthetic limbs that look and behave much more like their flesh-and-bone counterparts. Also, it could lead to robots that are nimbler and sleeker than you’re used to — they don’t have to be slow, hulking beasts. Given that robotics are finding their way into seemingly every aspect of society, it only makes sense that the machines themselves become more relatable to humans.
[Image credit: Oliver Dietze]