World’s First Stretchy Electric Cable, More Lifelike Robots to Follow

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DigInfo / YouTube

Imagine: Your vacuum cleaner’s power cable isn’t long enough to reach out the front door, across your driveway and into your car’s backseat. What do you do? Buy an extension cable, of course! Or if you had one of Japan-based manufacturer Asahi Kasei’s inventions, just take the vacuum cleaner firmly in hand and pull, causing the cable to miraculously stretch. All part of Asahi Kasei’s plans to help robots take over the world (okay, not really, but it does involve robots).

But wait, a power cable that stretches? How? Wires can’t stretch, can they? Did Asahi Kasei invent elastic metal?

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Not at all. In fact the concept’s remarkably simple: Imagine coils of wiring threaded through elastic material. When the elastic’s in its resting state, the coils are closer together, but when the material’s stretched, the cable can expand lengthwise without stressing the metal strands within.

Asahi Kasei sees this as far more than just a way to help you clean your car, of course. Robots today often require slack cables to facilitate a range of extensible motion, but this often requires unsightly designs (or workarounds), making them look anything but human. To make a robot’s physical movements appear lifelike, you’d need flexible cabling that conforms more to the human body and can be tucked away, hidden, say, beneath artificial skin. Speaking of, Asahi Kasei already makes Spandex, so it says designing stretchable wiring was a natural progressive step.

Based on past research, Asahi Kasei says it found that human skin can stretch by a factor of 1.5. “So we thought, if we can make a cable that stretches by a factor of 1.5, it could be used for wearable electronics, or for wiring the skin of humanoid robots,” says Shunji Tatsumi, a manager with Asahi Kasei Fibers, in a video by DigInfo.

The idea down the road would be to craft artificial skin, and then to use this sort of elastic wiring within the skin itself, almost like artificial veins, carrying electric current in lieu of blood–still world’s away from Blade Runner‘s replicants or something like Bishop in Aliens, but getting closer.

[via TechCrunch]

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Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.