GET FIT TECH
Sign up for the FREE digital edition of Fit Tech magazine and also get the Fit Tech ezine and breaking news email alerts.
Not right now, thanksclose this window
Technogym
Technogym
Technogym
features

Artificial muscles: Robotic muscles

Loss of strength and muscle wastage affect millions of people and have a significant impact on health and quality of life. emPOWER is a visionary project that aims to develop implantable artificial muscles by 2050. Project leader Professor Jonathan Rossiter explains how it will work

Published in Fit Tech 2021 issue 1

Tell us about emPOWER? What is it and how did it come about?
emPOWER is a five-year, £6 million research project, funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It aims to develop implantable artificial muscles to address muscle ageing and disabilities that affect movement.

The project is part of a major new UK research focus on long-term healthcare research, targeting clinical and societal impact by 2050. This 30-year horizon is unprecedented and enables researchers to plan deep-and-wide research programmes that would not have been possible in the conventional short-to-medium timescales.

The emPOWER project brings together leaders in soft robotics, surgery, biomaterials, tissue engineering, metamaterials, and functional chemistry with a large team of clinical, patient and industrial partners. Together we identified the need to step beyond current wearable and regenerative medicine approaches to muscle weakness and mobility restoration, and move instead to placing robotic artificial muscles exactly where they are needed: inside the body.

Who could benefit from artificial muscles?
There are over 10.8 million people living with disability in the UK today. Nearly 6.5 million have mobility impairments, with the largest causes being age-related frailty and stroke – there are over 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK. As we age, we lose muscle mass and strength. This condition is called sarcopenia. This means we walk more slowly, cannot move around so easily and ultimately, have to move into supported care.

emPOWER aims to implant artificial muscles to overcome sarcopenia. We believe that by boosting remaining muscle functions by only ten percent we can restore mobility and independence to sufferers of muscle weakness.

Another important group in need of emPOWER muscles are those who suffer from the after-effects of strokes and trauma. emPOWER muscles have the potential to work with the remaining neurological signals and remaining muscles to restore the mobility in affected limbs.

Many other disorders are also set to benefit from emPOWER muscles, including urinary and faecal incontinence, facial palsy, and venous insufficiency.

What work has been done into artificial muscles to date?
Artificial muscle technologies have developed significantly over the last decade. The latest muscles are able to deliver power densities – that’s the amount of muscle power per cubic centimetre – of the order of human skeletal muscles. These have been demonstrated in laboratory settings under controlled conditions.

They employ a variety of technologies including electroactive polymers, which are materials that contract like muscles when electrically stimulated. Electroactive polymers use electrical power, which can be stored in high density batteries and easily controlled using embedded control circuits.

Why are exoskeletons not enough?
Exoskeletons have an important place in therapy and as a short-term aid to mobility. Rigid exoskeletons can even help a paralysed person walk. However, they are big, heavy, expensive and take a long time to put on or get into.

Recently, soft exoskeletons have been the focus of many research groups, including ourselves in the Right Trousers project. These soft exosuits would be much easier to put on and less bulky than their rigid counterparts, and could be worn discreetly under clothing.

Unfortunately, all exoskeletons and exosuits suffer from a fundamental problem: they must transfer significant forces through the skin into the human skeleton. This can cause damage and ulceration to the skin and discomfort to the wearer. emPOWER muscles completely side-step this problem by interfacing with the skeleton directly, under the skin, exactly where the natural muscles are located. Their ends will fuse with bone and thereby muscle forces will be transferred to the skeleton with no loss or danger of damage.

How will you make this vision a reality?
There are several questions we will initially be addressing. Firstly, how can we interface artificial muscles with natural bone so that the interface is mechanically strong while being fully biologically compatible? Secondly, how can we make our emPOWER artificial muscles as strong, when implanted, as their natural counterparts, and lastly, how can we get energy into, and out of, the muscles fast enough to assist with walking?

Each one of these will be addressed through its own set of technology developments – for example, bone interfacing will include novel metamaterials with chemical functionalisation so that the bone-artificial muscle interface is both strong and biologically inert.

We won’t be implanting muscles into people until we have demonstrated all the crucial technologies separately and then in combination. This first five-year project will focus on demonstration of emPOWER muscles and biointerfacing. We will then, in follow-on projects, seek to implant the muscles, first in animals and then in humans.

Why is this project unique?
The 2050 target of these Transformative Healthcare Technologies projects gives us the unique flexibility to plan a development route over 20-30 years, instead of the typical five years. This means we can explore new technologies and scientific phenomena that others would not have the freedom to do.

In addition to building on the current state-of-the-art technologies, we will explore new and disruptive ideas that are at the very earliest stage of conception and development.

How would artificial muscles be controlled?
Control is very important for the implantable emPOWER muscles. We will explore how neural signals from the nervous system and from the brain, through a process called electrocorticography, can enable natural muscle control. We aim to develop an artificial motor neuron, providing bidirectional control and sensing of the emPOWER muscles.

What features are required to enable implantable artificial muscles to function safely, comfortably and effectively?
emPOWER muscles must have a new level of compatibility with the body. They must be biocompatible so that they do not elicit an immune response, they must be mechanically compatible so that they do not overstress the skeletal system and they must be compatible with the natural neurological control systems.

Each of these factors must be proven to be safe and effective separately, and then in combination, before we can consider implantation. Just as important is patient comfort and acceptance and patient input and guidance forms an important continual strand within the emPOWER project.

Can you really achieve your goal by 2050?
Yes, we are confident that we can make implantable muscles a reality by that target!

Looking further into the future, in what other ways could this technology be used?
Artificial muscles are needed in many different sectors, from wearable power assistance in factories to environmental robots that can clean up pollution. Our industrial partners need new artificial muscle technologies to keep workers safe, to reduce fatigue, and to improve productivity.

We have built into the emPOWER project a programme of accelerated impact in these fields. Industry has a shorter development timescale than healthcare, so we expect to see non-implanted emPOWER artificial muscles in products and industries long before 2050.

Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
Gallery
More features
interview

Blurring the lines

Les Mills has launched a suite of digital solutions to help gyms future-proof by expanding their reach in the booming online fitness space, while complementing their live offerings. Steph Eaves talks to Les Mills International’s CMO Anna Henwood to find out more

Digital retention top performers

Three digital fitness platforms tell Fit Tech how they work to achieve higher levels of customer retention
people

Andy Etches

Founder and sports director, Rezzil
Rezzil was able to have an injured player learning his new manager's philosophy, positioning and playing style – all from a seated position
interview

Preston Lewis, Black Box VR

It’s clear that combining VR gaming with fitness has the potential to decrease pain, increase enjoyment, and allow players to push their bodies further than they would normally, creating real fitness gains over time
interview

Robotic muscles

We identified the need to step beyond the current approaches to muscle weakness, and move instead to placing robotic muscles exactly where they’re needed – inside the body

Virtual wellbeing check

Feelings of pressure, isolation and performance anxiety are commonly experienced by athletes, however it isn’t always easy for clubs to identify those who are struggling. Richard Lucas, founder of GoVox, explains how technology can help
people

Kevin Dawidowicz

President, CoachMePlus
Fitness apps are designed to train clients, without a trainer on the other side. We give coaches a tool for connection
interview

Rodrigo Jesus, Salus Optima

We recognise that we can digitise most of the coaching experience, but we also recognise that the human in the loop is irreplaceable
people

Devi Mahadevia

Facebook director of sports and fitness partnerships
With Facebook paid online events, publishers can charge viewers to attend a video livestream on their Facebook pages or a third party video service

Sky x Fiit

Fiit has secured a deal with TV giant Sky, to make its virtual workout platform available through the subscription-based Sky Q service. With 20 per cent of Fiit users now accessing the app through Sky, Fit Tech speaks to Fraser Stirling and Daniel Shellard to find out more

Staying sticky

Bob Lawson explains how digital fitness platforms and apps can maximise retention and prevent churn
Editor's letter

Big (fit) tech

We’re entering the age of the wellness mega-corp, with the ultimate goal for investors being to dominate health and wellness markets in every channel. Prepare to expect the unexpected in this convergence of health, fitness and wellness

Fit Tech Leadership Report

Fit tech is a growing, competitive sector. Executive search firm, Stronger Talent, recently analysed the backgrounds of more than 300 fit tech executives to provide insights into recruiting strategies, as Pete Leibman explains

Collect wind power as you move

Researchers in China have designed a tiny device that can scavenge wind energy from the breeze you make when you walk or run

Clubs without walls

Venueserve Fitness is working with the Health Club Collection to drive its digital customer engagement

Funxtion: A brand new app

FunXtion and GoodLife Fitness are collaborating to help Canadians stay fit in the gym and at home
interview

Paul Bowman, Wexer

The future of fitness is hybrid, says the CEO of Wexer. He shares his thoughts on why and how the industry should embrace this change
interview

Lindsay Cook, FitOn

Today FitOn is a totally different experience. That’s the beauty of software – it’s so easy to improve and change to meet your members’ needs
interview

Digital ecosystem

The digitisation of the sector was going to happen anyway. COVID-19 has simply accelerated the digital transformation
interview

Will Ahmed, Whoop

Whoop is taking wearable technology to the next level, providing deeper insights into individuals’ physiology and enabling optimised training. Founder and CEO Will Ahmed talks to Steph Eaves about the importance of personalised feedback
interview

Forme Life: Trent Ward & Yves Béhar

I think the big ‘a-ha’ moment was when we had the idea that a mirror would be the best way for somebody to learn
people

Ian Mullane

Founder, Keepme
Using predictive and machine learning models, operators can hyper-personalise engagement
interview

PureGym

We’ve been ranked number two on the App Store for health and fitness, second only to Fitbit

Functional wearables

A new ultra-thin, stretchable electronic material could be a game changer for wearable tech
Featured supplier: FunXtion enhance interactive workouts with the launch of Virtual Player
Digital meets personal with the new Virtual Player from FunXtion, experts in interactive fitness, which allows clubs to stream and schedule world class virtual classes anytime, providing an interactive workout experience on the gym floor, functional area or directly to members at home via an app.
A new Zone is here
MyZone Group Ltd
A new zone is here for your club, for your members and for you. Read more
Company profile: Mediana Co., Ltd.
Mediana specialises in the manufacture of medical and health care devices, such as body composition ...
Company profile: Myzone
Myzone is an innovative heart rate monitor and community engagement tool to track physical activity ...
Red Light Therapy
 Red Light Rising: Red Light Therapy
Salt therapy products
Himalayan Source: Salt therapy products
Management software
fibodo Limited: Management software
Lockers/interior design
Safe Space Lockers Ltd: Lockers/interior design
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Featured supplier: FunXtion enhance interactive workouts with the launch of Virtual Player
Digital meets personal with the new Virtual Player from FunXtion, experts in interactive fitness, which allows clubs to stream and schedule world class virtual classes anytime, providing an interactive workout experience on the gym floor, functional area or directly to members at home via an app.
Company profile: Mediana Co., Ltd.
Mediana specialises in the manufacture of medical and health care devices, such as body composition ...
Company profile: Myzone
Myzone is an innovative heart rate monitor and community engagement tool to track physical activity ...
A new Zone is here
MyZone Group Ltd
A new zone is here for your club, for your members and for you. Read more
Get Fit Tech
Sign up for the free digital edition of Fit Tech magazine and the free weekly Fit Tech ezine
Sign up
Red Light Therapy
 Red Light Rising: Red Light Therapy
Salt therapy products
Himalayan Source: Salt therapy products
Management software
fibodo Limited: Management software
Lockers/interior design
Safe Space Lockers Ltd: Lockers/interior design
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring

latest fit tech news

The Gym Group has extended its partnership with digital fitness platform Fiit, becoming the first budget gym operator to offer ...
Digital fitness platform Fiit has launched an interactive fitness app for the UK market, which is capable of creating a ...
Fitness startup Arena Innovation has secured US$5.2m worth of seed funding, as it looks to launch its robotically-assisted resistance training ...
Digital fitness content provider, Wexer, is launching a new wellness resource on its connected Web Player. Called Mind123, it will ...
iFIT Health & Fitness has acquired Sweat, the popular, female-focused fitness platform set up in 2015 by Australian fitness trainer ...
Digital fitness coaching firm Asensei has released an API platform which allows developers of connected fitness products and apps to ...
Ojmar has launched OCS SMART, a next-generation smart lock that can be controlled via a mobile phone, tablet, or smart ...
Peloton is rumoured to be expanding its at-home fitness accessories with the launch of a heart rate sensor or tracker. ...
The Great Outdoor Gym Company (TGO) has launched a digital fitness platform. The outdoor fitness equipment provider's new TGO-Activate.com service ...
Magicline gym management software – the system used by RSG Group – has been launched globally in English by owner, ...
Physiotherapists, fitness coaches and other physical health practitioners will be offered access to leading motion analysis technology normally only available ...
Fifty-eight percent of US households have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, and 39 per cent of consumers own one personally. ...
More fit tech news
features

Artificial muscles: Robotic muscles

Loss of strength and muscle wastage affect millions of people and have a significant impact on health and quality of life. emPOWER is a visionary project that aims to develop implantable artificial muscles by 2050. Project leader Professor Jonathan Rossiter explains how it will work

Published in Fit Tech 2021 issue 1

Tell us about emPOWER? What is it and how did it come about?
emPOWER is a five-year, £6 million research project, funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It aims to develop implantable artificial muscles to address muscle ageing and disabilities that affect movement.

The project is part of a major new UK research focus on long-term healthcare research, targeting clinical and societal impact by 2050. This 30-year horizon is unprecedented and enables researchers to plan deep-and-wide research programmes that would not have been possible in the conventional short-to-medium timescales.

The emPOWER project brings together leaders in soft robotics, surgery, biomaterials, tissue engineering, metamaterials, and functional chemistry with a large team of clinical, patient and industrial partners. Together we identified the need to step beyond current wearable and regenerative medicine approaches to muscle weakness and mobility restoration, and move instead to placing robotic artificial muscles exactly where they are needed: inside the body.

Who could benefit from artificial muscles?
There are over 10.8 million people living with disability in the UK today. Nearly 6.5 million have mobility impairments, with the largest causes being age-related frailty and stroke – there are over 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK. As we age, we lose muscle mass and strength. This condition is called sarcopenia. This means we walk more slowly, cannot move around so easily and ultimately, have to move into supported care.

emPOWER aims to implant artificial muscles to overcome sarcopenia. We believe that by boosting remaining muscle functions by only ten percent we can restore mobility and independence to sufferers of muscle weakness.

Another important group in need of emPOWER muscles are those who suffer from the after-effects of strokes and trauma. emPOWER muscles have the potential to work with the remaining neurological signals and remaining muscles to restore the mobility in affected limbs.

Many other disorders are also set to benefit from emPOWER muscles, including urinary and faecal incontinence, facial palsy, and venous insufficiency.

What work has been done into artificial muscles to date?
Artificial muscle technologies have developed significantly over the last decade. The latest muscles are able to deliver power densities – that’s the amount of muscle power per cubic centimetre – of the order of human skeletal muscles. These have been demonstrated in laboratory settings under controlled conditions.

They employ a variety of technologies including electroactive polymers, which are materials that contract like muscles when electrically stimulated. Electroactive polymers use electrical power, which can be stored in high density batteries and easily controlled using embedded control circuits.

Why are exoskeletons not enough?
Exoskeletons have an important place in therapy and as a short-term aid to mobility. Rigid exoskeletons can even help a paralysed person walk. However, they are big, heavy, expensive and take a long time to put on or get into.

Recently, soft exoskeletons have been the focus of many research groups, including ourselves in the Right Trousers project. These soft exosuits would be much easier to put on and less bulky than their rigid counterparts, and could be worn discreetly under clothing.

Unfortunately, all exoskeletons and exosuits suffer from a fundamental problem: they must transfer significant forces through the skin into the human skeleton. This can cause damage and ulceration to the skin and discomfort to the wearer. emPOWER muscles completely side-step this problem by interfacing with the skeleton directly, under the skin, exactly where the natural muscles are located. Their ends will fuse with bone and thereby muscle forces will be transferred to the skeleton with no loss or danger of damage.

How will you make this vision a reality?
There are several questions we will initially be addressing. Firstly, how can we interface artificial muscles with natural bone so that the interface is mechanically strong while being fully biologically compatible? Secondly, how can we make our emPOWER artificial muscles as strong, when implanted, as their natural counterparts, and lastly, how can we get energy into, and out of, the muscles fast enough to assist with walking?

Each one of these will be addressed through its own set of technology developments – for example, bone interfacing will include novel metamaterials with chemical functionalisation so that the bone-artificial muscle interface is both strong and biologically inert.

We won’t be implanting muscles into people until we have demonstrated all the crucial technologies separately and then in combination. This first five-year project will focus on demonstration of emPOWER muscles and biointerfacing. We will then, in follow-on projects, seek to implant the muscles, first in animals and then in humans.

Why is this project unique?
The 2050 target of these Transformative Healthcare Technologies projects gives us the unique flexibility to plan a development route over 20-30 years, instead of the typical five years. This means we can explore new technologies and scientific phenomena that others would not have the freedom to do.

In addition to building on the current state-of-the-art technologies, we will explore new and disruptive ideas that are at the very earliest stage of conception and development.

How would artificial muscles be controlled?
Control is very important for the implantable emPOWER muscles. We will explore how neural signals from the nervous system and from the brain, through a process called electrocorticography, can enable natural muscle control. We aim to develop an artificial motor neuron, providing bidirectional control and sensing of the emPOWER muscles.

What features are required to enable implantable artificial muscles to function safely, comfortably and effectively?
emPOWER muscles must have a new level of compatibility with the body. They must be biocompatible so that they do not elicit an immune response, they must be mechanically compatible so that they do not overstress the skeletal system and they must be compatible with the natural neurological control systems.

Each of these factors must be proven to be safe and effective separately, and then in combination, before we can consider implantation. Just as important is patient comfort and acceptance and patient input and guidance forms an important continual strand within the emPOWER project.

Can you really achieve your goal by 2050?
Yes, we are confident that we can make implantable muscles a reality by that target!

Looking further into the future, in what other ways could this technology be used?
Artificial muscles are needed in many different sectors, from wearable power assistance in factories to environmental robots that can clean up pollution. Our industrial partners need new artificial muscle technologies to keep workers safe, to reduce fatigue, and to improve productivity.

We have built into the emPOWER project a programme of accelerated impact in these fields. Industry has a shorter development timescale than healthcare, so we expect to see non-implanted emPOWER artificial muscles in products and industries long before 2050.

Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
Gallery
More features
interview

Blurring the lines

Les Mills has launched a suite of digital solutions to help gyms future-proof by expanding their reach in the booming online fitness space, while complementing their live offerings. Steph Eaves talks to Les Mills International’s CMO Anna Henwood to find out more

Digital retention top performers

Three digital fitness platforms tell Fit Tech how they work to achieve higher levels of customer retention
people

Andy Etches

Founder and sports director, Rezzil
Rezzil was able to have an injured player learning his new manager's philosophy, positioning and playing style – all from a seated position
interview

Preston Lewis, Black Box VR

We’ve had to create training experiences that show users how to grab handles in the virtual world that are mapped to our real-world machine
interview

Robotic muscles

We identified the need to step beyond the current approaches to muscle weakness, and move instead to placing robotic muscles exactly where they’re needed – inside the body

Virtual wellbeing check

Feelings of pressure, isolation and performance anxiety are commonly experienced by athletes, however it isn’t always easy for clubs to identify those who are struggling. Richard Lucas, founder of GoVox, explains how technology can help
people

Kevin Dawidowicz

President, CoachMePlus
Fitness apps are designed to train clients, without a trainer on the other side. We give coaches a tool for connection
interview

Rodrigo Jesus, Salus Optima

Everything we do is evidence based and scientifically proven. Our technology is grounded in science and we have dozens of scientists and experts who collaborate with us in human performance
people

Devi Mahadevia

Facebook director of sports and fitness partnerships
With Facebook paid online events, publishers can charge viewers to attend a video livestream on their Facebook pages or a third party video service

Sky x Fiit

Fiit has secured a deal with TV giant Sky, to make its virtual workout platform available through the subscription-based Sky Q service. With 20 per cent of Fiit users now accessing the app through Sky, Fit Tech speaks to Fraser Stirling and Daniel Shellard to find out more

Staying sticky

Bob Lawson explains how digital fitness platforms and apps can maximise retention and prevent churn
Editor's letter

Big (fit) tech

We’re entering the age of the wellness mega-corp, with the ultimate goal for investors being to dominate health and wellness markets in every channel. Prepare to expect the unexpected in this convergence of health, fitness and wellness
Technogym
Technogym