Scientists have developed a totally new method to create pneumatic devices and used it to build a pump resembling a human heart.
The method from Cornell University researchers relies on a soft material that feels like memory foam. The material has potential for use in prosthetic body parts, artificial organs and soft robotics.
The foam is unique in all its nature because it can be formed and has connected pores that permits fluids to be pumped through it.
While applications for use inside the body require federal approval and testing, the researchers are close to making prosthetic body parts with the so-called 'elastomer foam.'
"We are currently pretty far along for making a prosthetic hand this way," said Rob Shepherd, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and senior author of a paper appearing online and in an issue of the journal Advanced Materials.
The research also demonstrated a pump that they made into a heart, mimicking both shape and function.
The scientists used carbon fiber and silicone on the outside to fashion a structure that expands at different rates on the surface - to make a spherical shape into an egg shape, for example, that would hold its form when inflated.
"This paper was about exploring the effect of porosity on the actuator, but now we would like to make the foam actuators faster and with higher strength, so we can apply more force. We are also focusing on biocompatibility," Shepherd said.