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 I've already subscribed!
Nespresso Professional UK | Fit Tech promotion
Nespresso Professional UK | Fit Tech promotion
Nespresso Professional UK | Fit Tech promotion
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
Editor's letter

Into the fitaverse

Fitness is already among the top three markets in the metaverse, with new technology and partnerships driving real growth and consumer engagement that looks likely to spill over into health clubs, gyms and studios
Fit Tech people

Ali Jawad

Paralympic powerlifter and founder, Accessercise
Users can easily identify which facilities in the UK are accessible to the disabled community
Fit Tech people

Hannes Sjöblad

MD, DSruptive
We want to give our users an implantable tool that allows them to collect their health data at any time and in any setting
Fit Tech people

Jamie Buck

Co-founder, Active in Time
We created a solution called AiT Voice, which turns digital data into a spoken audio timetable that connects to phone systems
Profile

Fahad Alhagbani: reinventing fitness

Let’s live in the future to improve today
Opinion

Building on the blockchain

For small sports teams looking to compete with giants, blockchain can be a secret weapon explains Lars Rensing, CEO of Protokol
Innovation

Bold move

We ended up raising US$7m in venture capital from incredible investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, Primetime Partners, and GingerBread Capital
App analysis

Check your form

Sency’s motion analysis technology is allowing users to check their technique as they exercise. Co-founder and CEO Gal Rotman explains how
Profile

New reality

Sam Cole, CEO of FitXR, talks to Fit Tech about taking digital workouts to the next level, with an immersive, virtual reality fitness club
Profile

Sohail Rashid

35 million people a week participate in strength training. We want Brawn to help this audience achieve their goals
Ageing

Reverse Ageing

Many apps help people track their health, but Humanity founders Peter Ward and Michael Geer have put the focus on ageing, to help users to see the direct repercussions of their habits. They talk to Steph Eaves
App analysis

Going hybrid

Workout Anytime created its app in partnership with Virtuagym. Workout Anytime’s Greg Maurer and Virtuagym’s Hugo Braam explain the process behind its creation
Research

Physical activity monitors boost activity levels

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have conducted a meta analysis of all relevant research and found that the body of evidence shows an impact
Editor's letter

Two-way coaching

Content providers have been hugely active in the fit tech market since the start of the pandemic. We expect the industry to move on from delivering these services on a ‘broadcast-only’ basis as two-way coaching becomes the new USP
Fit Tech People

Laurent Petit

Co-founder, Active Giving
The future of sports and fitness are dependent on the climate. Our goal is to positively influence the future of our planet by instilling a global vision of wellbeing and a sense of collective action
Fit Tech People

Adam Zeitsiff

CEO, Intelivideo
We don’t just create the technology and bail – we support our clients’ ongoing hybridisation efforts
Fit Tech People

Anantharaman Pattabiraman

CEO and co-founder, Auro
When you’re undertaking fitness activities, unless you’re on a stationary bike, in most cases it’s not safe or necessary to be tied to a screen, especially a small screen
Fit Tech People

Mike Hansen

Managing partner, Endorphinz
We noticed a big gap in the market – customers needed better insights but also recommendations on what to do, whether that be customer acquisition, content creation, marketing and more
More features
Taylor Made Designs (TMD) is a ‘leisure specialist’ provider of bespoke leisure workwear, plus branded ...
Mindbody is a true all-in-one software platform, providing first-rate service for your clients and the ...
Lockers
Cryotherapy
Salt therapy products
Flooring
Digital
08-10 Oct 2024
Malaga - FYCMA, Malaga, Spain
Taylor Made Designs (TMD) is a ‘leisure specialist’ provider of bespoke leisure workwear, plus branded ...
Mindbody is a true all-in-one software platform, providing first-rate service for your clients and the ...
Get Fit Tech
Sign up for the free Fit Tech ezine and breaking news alerts
Sign up
Lockers
Cryotherapy
Salt therapy products
Flooring
Digital
08-10 Oct 2024
Malaga - FYCMA, Malaga, Spain

latest fit tech news

Apple has previewed the upcoming watchOS 11, which has more health and fitness insights and offers more personalisation than ever ...
news • 12 Jun 2024
Noraxon’s next-generation motion capture system, MyoMotion, can be used by PTs to enable custom training programmes, minimise injuries and help ...
news • 11 Jun 2024
New research shows that following social media health influencers motivates young people to exercise more vigorously and eat more fruit ...
news • 28 May 2024
Peloton has secured a critical US$1bn five-year loan to shore up its finances. The loan has repayment terms which are ...
news • 24 May 2024
Peloton Interactive Inc is believed to be working to get its costs under control in a bid to align with ...
news • 08 May 2024
HoloBike, a holographic training bike that simulates trail rides in lifelike 3D, is aiming to push indoor cycling technology up ...
news • 08 May 2024
Xplor Technologies has unveiled a financing solution for small businesses, which aims to counter the traditional lending process and help ...
news • 08 May 2024
Moonbird is a tactile breathing coach, which provides real-time biofeedback, measuring heart rate and heart rate variability. Studies show it ...
news • 02 May 2024
Atlanta-based boutique fitness software company, Xplor Mariana Tek, has kicked off a push for international expansion. Shannon Tracey, VP of ...
news • 18 Apr 2024
Portugese footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, has launched a health and wellness app that harmonises advice on fitness, nutrition and mental wellness ...
news • 05 Apr 2024
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
Editor's letter

Into the fitaverse

Fitness is already among the top three markets in the metaverse, with new technology and partnerships driving real growth and consumer engagement that looks likely to spill over into health clubs, gyms and studios
Fit Tech people

Ali Jawad

Paralympic powerlifter and founder, Accessercise
Users can easily identify which facilities in the UK are accessible to the disabled community
Fit Tech people

Hannes Sjöblad

MD, DSruptive
We want to give our users an implantable tool that allows them to collect their health data at any time and in any setting
Fit Tech people

Jamie Buck

Co-founder, Active in Time
We created a solution called AiT Voice, which turns digital data into a spoken audio timetable that connects to phone systems
Profile

Fahad Alhagbani: reinventing fitness

Let’s live in the future to improve today
Opinion

Building on the blockchain

For small sports teams looking to compete with giants, blockchain can be a secret weapon explains Lars Rensing, CEO of Protokol
Innovation

Bold move

We ended up raising US$7m in venture capital from incredible investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, Primetime Partners, and GingerBread Capital
App analysis

Check your form

Sency’s motion analysis technology is allowing users to check their technique as they exercise. Co-founder and CEO Gal Rotman explains how
Profile

New reality

Sam Cole, CEO of FitXR, talks to Fit Tech about taking digital workouts to the next level, with an immersive, virtual reality fitness club
Profile

Sohail Rashid

35 million people a week participate in strength training. We want Brawn to help this audience achieve their goals
Ageing

Reverse Ageing

Many apps help people track their health, but Humanity founders Peter Ward and Michael Geer have put the focus on ageing, to help users to see the direct repercussions of their habits. They talk to Steph Eaves
App analysis

Going hybrid

Workout Anytime created its app in partnership with Virtuagym. Workout Anytime’s Greg Maurer and Virtuagym’s Hugo Braam explain the process behind its creation
Research

Physical activity monitors boost activity levels

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have conducted a meta analysis of all relevant research and found that the body of evidence shows an impact
Editor's letter

Two-way coaching

Content providers have been hugely active in the fit tech market since the start of the pandemic. We expect the industry to move on from delivering these services on a ‘broadcast-only’ basis as two-way coaching becomes the new USP
Fit Tech People

Laurent Petit

Co-founder, Active Giving
The future of sports and fitness are dependent on the climate. Our goal is to positively influence the future of our planet by instilling a global vision of wellbeing and a sense of collective action
Fit Tech People

Adam Zeitsiff

CEO, Intelivideo
We don’t just create the technology and bail – we support our clients’ ongoing hybridisation efforts
Fit Tech People

Anantharaman Pattabiraman

CEO and co-founder, Auro
When you’re undertaking fitness activities, unless you’re on a stationary bike, in most cases it’s not safe or necessary to be tied to a screen, especially a small screen
Fit Tech People

Mike Hansen

Managing partner, Endorphinz
We noticed a big gap in the market – customers needed better insights but also recommendations on what to do, whether that be customer acquisition, content creation, marketing and more
More features