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Artificial muscles aren’t a new idea. Developed decades ago they replicate how the muscles in humans and animals work to facilitate movement, by simply expanding and contracting. But the exotic materials needed to make artificial muscles work are expensive, and no where near as durable, or self-repairing, as the real thing.

So researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked to another material as a way to make simple and cheap artificial muscles, and discovered that when plastic nylon fibers were heated, they shrink in length but expand in diameter, causing them to bend.

By controlling exactly how much heat is applied to the fibers, and from which direction it comes, the researchers were able to precisely and repeatedly move the plastic fibers in specific patterns.

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