24 Nov 2016

Scientists stretch their muscle!

From Nine To Noon, 9:37 am on 24 November 2016

State-of-the-art technology mimicking muscle movement has been recognised by the Royal Society in appreciation of its potential.


StretchSense Photo: supplied

Iain Anderson has been awarded the Pickering Medal for leading innovation in electro-active polymer technology, and for excellence leading to significant recognition and influence in New Zealand and overseas.

He has set up a company called StretchSense, along with two of his former students, Todd Gisby and Ben O'Brien, to develop the material for use in wearable gadgets and soft robotics.

The company describes these wearable applications as like rubber bands with Bluetooth.

Along with gaming, the technology could help change the face of robotics, sports and motion capture.

Anderson who is a bioengineer at the University of Auckland, says such mimicry makes a great deal of sense.

“There’s been hundreds of millions of years of experimentation going on to try and perfect mechanisms for survival.”

He says the material his company is commercialising does two key things: acts as a sensor and harvests energy.

The mimicked muscle movement drew inspiration from jelly fish, Anderson says, which use small paddles as means of movement.

“One little paddle moves and it touches the next one, and that moves and you get this roll of actuation.”

Energy harvesting takes energy from human motions and turns it into electricity which can then be put back into a device that’s worn on the body to monitor, for example, a physiological function.    

Anderson says there is a “wearable technology explosion” going on around the world at the moment.