Improved Micro-Muscle Developed
If you examine a modern robot you will find some component on them for delivering mechanical force, similar to how our muscles work. For large robots, there are many technologies for delivering that force, but as the size shrinks, so do the options. Researchers at Berkeley Lab though have developed a new micro-muscle with a lot of power.
The micro-muscle uses vanadium dioxide, which many researchers are interested in. The reason is its interesting phase transitions which will morph it from an insulator to a conductor, and will cause it to shrink in one dimension while expanding in the others. This latter effect is what the Berkeley researchers are utilizing as applying enough thermal or electro-thermal energy can cause vanadium dioxide wire to suddenly move. For its size, the micro-muscle they built is a thousand times more powerful than our muscles and can throw an object fifty times its weight a distance five times its length.
With so much power it will be interesting to see how the micro-muscle's potential is tapped. It is also worth noting that the phase transition can also be triggered optically, as the material will convert light into heat.
Source: Berkeley Lab