I needed to create some actuators for an animatronics project I'm working on. Air muscles are very powerful actuators that work very similar to a human muscle and have a phenomenal strength to weight ratio- they can exert a pulling force up to 400 times their own weight. They will work when twisted or bent and can work under water. They're also easy and cheap to make!

Air muscles (also known as a McKibben artificial muscle or braided pneumatic actuators) were originally developed by J.L. McKibben in the 1950's as an orthotic appliance for polio patients.

Here's how they work:

The muscle consists of a rubber tube (bladder or core) that is surrounded by a tubular braided fiber mesh sleeve. When the bladder is inflated the mesh expands radially and contracts axially (since the mesh fibers are inextensible), shortening the overall length of the muscle and subsequently producing a pulling force.

Air muscles have performance characteristics very similar to human muscles- the force exerted decreases as the muscle contracts. This is due to the change in the interweave angle of the braided mesh as the muscle contracts- as the mesh expands radially in a scissors like motion it exerts less force due to the weave angle becoming increasingly shallow as the muscle contracts (see the diagram below- figure A shows that the muscle will contract to a greater degree than figure C given an equal increase in bladder pressure).The videos show this effect as well. Air muscles can contract up to 40% of their length, depending on the method and materials of their construction.

Gas law states that if you increase pressure you also increase the volume of an expandable cylinder (provided temperature is constant.) The expanding volume of the bladder is ultimately constrained by the physical properties of the braided mesh sleeve so in order to create a greater pulling force you need to be able to increase the effective volume of the bladder- the pulling force of the muscle is a function of the length and diameter of the muscle as well as its ability to contract due to the properties of the mesh sleeve (construction material, number of fibers, interweave angle) and bladder material.

I constructed two different sized muscles using similar materials to demonstrate this principle- they both were operated at the same air pressure (60psi) but had different diameters and lengths. The small muscle really starts to struggle when some weight is put on it while the larger muscle has no problems at all.

Here are a couple of videos showing both of the constructed air muscles in action.

Now let's go make some muscles!

Step 1: Materials

All of the materials are readily available on Amazon.com, with the exception of the 3/8" braided nylon mesh- it is available from electronics suppliers. Amazon does sell a braided sleeving kit with several sizes of braided mesh but the exact material is not stated-

You'll need an air source:
I used a small air tank with a pressure regulator but you can also use a bicycle air pump (you will have to make an adapter to make it work with the 1/4" poly hose.
Air tank- Amazon
Pressure regulator (will require a 1/8" NPT female to 1/4" NPT male adapter)- Amazon

1/4" high pressure poly tubing- Amazon
multitool (screwdriver, scissors, pliers, wire cutters)- Amazon

for the small muscle:
1/4" silicone or latex tubing- Amazon
3/8" braided nylon mesh sleeve (see above)
1/8" small hose barb (brass or nylon)- Amazon
small bolt (10-24 thread by 3/8 in length works well)- Amazon
steel safety wire- Amazon

for the large muscle:
3/8" silicone or latex tubing- Amazon
1/2" braided nylon mesh sleeve- Amazon
1/8" or similar sized drill bit- Amazon
21/64" drill bit- Amazon
1/8" x 27 NPT tap- Amazon
1/8" hose barb x 1/8" pipe thread adapter- Amazon
small hose clamps- Amazon
3/4" aluminum or plastic rod to construct the muscle ends- Amazon

Safety note- make sure you wear safety glasses when testing your air muscles! A high pressure hose that pops off a loose fitting could cause a serious injury!

<p>That's a lot simpler than I thought it would be. I can't imagine how I'd find a use for those, but someone is gonna figure out how to put those to work!</p>
Hey there, I made an exo arm in which is like to include a pneumatic muscle. Probably the small one. But I was really wondering if I could you co2? Mainly because I can fit the cartridges right into the arm. Please let me know and I greatly appreciate it.
I can't see any reason why that wouldn't work.
Okay great! This is my first attempt as this air muscle stuff, so I was wondering if you could please tell me how I'd go about the co2 cartridges instead of air tank? Sorry for being a pest, I just want to make sure it's done correctly. Thank you!
<p>Ok I get how to make the muscle but how do you go abouts making an exo-arm</p>
Guys can someon tell me if it's possible to connect ot to the human body?
<p>i've actually done such a thing. You can see a video of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehh1ldim8H4</p>
<p>HII AIDAN</p>
<p>you could have two velcro straps on the limbs and it would pull them together</p>
Ola Im brasilian..minha duvida e se a capa de nailon tem que ser espesifica
how can i conect it to the human body?
<p>Does anyone have any ideas/pointers on how the system could be made quieter?</p>
You could put something like a small filter or a baffle over the air exhaust port to quiet it.
<p>Maybe even a closed-loop system of some sort?</p>
Do you have any info on how to control multiple air muscles via a micro controller, such as an Arduino?
The easiest method would probably be to connect multiple solenoid air valves to the Arduino output pins with a transistor to turn each valve on and off.
Do you know of anyone that sells VERY SMALL solenoid valves for use in this way? I looked in my Jameco Electronics catalog, and they only have ONE solenoid valve for sale, and it's like 1.2&quot;. Looking for something much smaller that also uses less power. <br><br>ALSO, do you think &quot;air muscles&quot; could be used with water inside rather than air? My intention is to make an extremely smooth operating cluster of &quot;muscles&quot;, that mimic biological organisms accurately. <br><br>Thanks sooo much for your help!!!
<p>i see you are trying to build a muscular system for an robot of some sort that moves and function like the real thing. EXCELLENT! do you have any interests what so ever in exo-suits?</p>
<p>I would just do a search for micro or subminiature solenoid valves. Most really small valves can't handle high pressure though.</p><p>You might be able to use water inside but I really don't see any advantage as you're adding a fair bit of weight and you would need a pump. If you want to go that route it would probably just be better to use traditional hydraulic cylinders.</p>
<p>Wow, amazing Instructable, wonder why they were never used in robotics.</p>
<p>Several companies have use them (Festo immediately comes to mind) but they are nowhere near as common as traditional electric motors or even hydraulics. You have to have an application that specifically requires their particular properties.</p>
<p>Because they are very hard to control. </p>
<p>Expanding on something mentioned here, would it be possible to run these using water? What sort of pump would you need? My thoughts are that a small pump would be more portable than an air compressor and a tank. </p>
<p>if accurate-yes</p>
<p>I don not know where to buy materials in Peru. Maybe try a hardware store or a place that sells aquarium supplies?</p>
<p>as it would be for you to bring it to the silicone tube peru because I find</p>
<p>Sorry I don't understand. Are you looking for silicone tubing in Peru?</p>
<p>Honus thank you tell me where each material conseguistes especially the silicone tube and not the meeting and thanks in advance</p>
<p>could give me the exact link of the materials or detallarmelos nesecito thanks in advance what to draft an exoskeleton</p>
All of the materials are listed in Step 1.
<p>me podrian dar exactamente el link de los materiales o detallarmelos gracias de antemano lo nesecito para un proyecto de un exoesqueleto</p>
what does the strength of the muscle depend on?
The pulling force of the muscle is a function of the length and diameter of the muscle as well as its ability to contract due to the properties of the mesh sleeve (construction material, number of fibers, interweave angle) and bladder material.<br>
Hi i was just wondering how you managed to get the aluminium at the ends of the muscle into the shape they are, did you buy them like that or what? <br> <br>Thanks in advance
I turned them from Aluminum rod using a lathe.
i remember seeing this instructable when it was first shown in the email send out as a featured ible and i favorited it, i have now come back and am designing a &quot;gauntlet&quot; that someone puts their arm into and the muscle will hopefully add to the strength of their motion, thank you for the inspiration.
That sounds like a really cool project- make sure to post pics or video when it's done!
here is what i have so far for a design for a bicep, what do you think?
I think it needs a rotational joint at the elbow. And the cables should be attached to a disk or something to translate the contraction of the muscle into torque.<br><br>If this works out, do you plan to extend the exoskeleton to more body parts? I just read Wearable Robots: Biomechatronic Exoskeletons and I suppose I'm interested in working on the same sort of thing. Also, I just found this website, are other people here working on exoskeletons?
I would love to turn this into an exoskeleton (and hope to), the problem I' ve had is cost so far, so a decent amount of time is taken saving up for the different parts.
You should enter the Jack Daniel's contest. $25,000 would buy a lot of parts.
You might think so.
Hey just spotted this and thought it would be really cool if you could do this, but if you use this for an exoskeleton then note that the air muscles can fail and cause a lot of pain, trust me if done something like this and couldnt bear the pain it gave me, when it collapsed it had caused a metal 'pinch' and fractured my arm. Just watch out for that but good luck with the attempts. :)
That looks pretty interesting- how exactly will it work?
i intend to have the system set up where a button operated valve will be on the ring in the bottom left of the picture set up where it faces downward towards the arm inside. when the arm flexes the valve will open and provide air for the air muscles (depicted as black cylinders) which would contract, as they contract cables attached to the muscles and the ring with the valves would hopefully pull the arm up into a flexed position, i then need to design another system on this that would involve more muscles that will create the opposite motion to bring the arm and frame back down.
im building the iron man suit obvsly minus anything power by the fictional arc reactor , any tips or comment are welcome , just looking to talk and make sum friends in the process of this exp,......thank you all
I'm currently working on a full animatronic Iron Man suit for a friend so I'll have a complete instructable up when it's finished. Everything is powered by servos though- no air muscles.<br>
thats whats up i would like to see the process of your exp' i myself am using linear force and gravity to make mines work sum hydrolics or shock obsobvers but not batteries,
im using old technology like the pharros back in egypt days meaning i wount be using battery i am using motors but not run on batteries or liquids just motion and pure physics
In order to decrease the weight of the system, can the air compressor only be used in the initial filling of a muscle and then removed and then have the air flow into the adjacent muscle or another container and then the adjacent muscle?

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Bio: I'm a former bicycle industry designer turned professional jeweler. I like working with my hands and am happiest when I'm in the shop ... More »
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