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Peristalsis is a type of muscle movement in soft muscle systems. It consists of a series of symmetrical constriction and relaxation of muscles and muscle groups along a tube-like structure. This allows the ground to flow around the object, or allow objects inside a flexing tube, to be dragged along by it.
In nature, earthworms use the former example to crawl along the ground, and human digestive tracts use the latter, to move material through the intestines, even against gravity.
In robotic systems and prosthetics, peristalsis is the basis behind a very durable type of artificial muscle, one which uses a shape-memory alloy of nickel and titanium to function. When a current is passed through hoops of the material, they contract. When the current stops, they expand back to their previous shape – even if they were crushed or contorted by an external force.
This behaviour is absolutely essential in artificial muscles designed to repair themselves from minor injuries – such as in the case of prosthetic limbs. They can also be used in conjunction with piezoelectric artificial muscles, to help generate power from movement, returning some of the energy investment.
See Also: Piezoelectric
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