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Self-Healing Artificial Muscles

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the carbon-nanotube-acupuncture dept.

Biotech 90

Valor1016 writes "Researchers in California have developed an artificial muscle that heals itself and generates electricity. 'We've made an artificial muscle that, when you apply electricity to it, it expands, more than 200 percent, the motion and energy is a lot like human muscles,' said Qibing Pei, a scientist at UCLA and study author. The researchers used flexible carbon nanotubes as electrodes. If an area of the carbon nanotube fails, the region around it seals itself by becoming non-conductive and prevents the damage from spreading to other areas. This material also conserves about 70% of the energy you put into it. As the material contracts after an expansion the rearranging of the carbon nanotubes generates a small electric current that can be captured and used to power another expansion or stored in a battery. The research appeared in the January issue of Advanced Materials."

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NOT Healing (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22811924)

The muscle does not heal. It shuts down damaged areas "to prevent spread of damage."
Typically, "healing" refers to repair of damage, not isolation of damage.

Re:NOT Healing (3, Interesting)

gnick (1211984) | about 6 years ago | (#22812268)

It sounds similar to the rip-proof diamond weave fabric used for hot air balloons. You can cut/puncture it, but the damage will stay isolated. Still, it's far better than the normal situation in these cases where surrounding material near the defect, because it's all interdependent, becomes weaker and perpetuates the damage.

Re:NOT Healing (4, Funny)

AdmiralWeirdbeard (832807) | about 6 years ago | (#22812422)

Though you are correct, I'm not gonna worry about it too much if its on the nanotube level of things. A few tubes out of commission will hardly keep my massively muscular robot body from raining down destruction upon mine enemies.

Re:NOT Healing (1)

celtic_hackr (579828) | about 6 years ago | (#22814322)

The question is, how many nanotube failures does it take until the muscle ceases to function and your evil robot has systemic failure?

Also, it seems to me they are pumping in too much energy, if they are getting 70% back when it contracts.
I'm pretty sure our muscles don't work that way, alhough our bodies do give off substantial heat loses, and that may be one cause. It would seem to me they could better conserve energy by looking for the minimum energy required to get the sufficient expansion, thus negating the lossy feedback circuit of reclaiming energy. THey are expending energy X, and the muscle returns .7X minus about 1 to 5% loss through heat and/or work expended yielding a loss of energy of 1-5%. Then they want to sotre that energy somewhere, expending more work and heat transfer giving a net expenditure of .3X + .05X + .05X.
So they are losing 32% to 40% instead of 30% with each muscle contraction. If 30% of the current is sufficient to power the muscle then why waste that other 2% to 10%? One could have a muscle that is 233% more effiecient if 30% is enough power to drive the muscle.

Re:NOT Healing (1)

vuffi_raa (1089583) | about 6 years ago | (#22816552)

it is great to make a more efficient synthetic muscle, but our muscles actually take a ton of energy to run- otherwise we would eat like, once a month and sleep at about the same rate. As it is we are constantly feeding energy to our bodies to make them run.

Re:NOT Healing (2, Funny)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | about 6 years ago | (#22814368)

Said like a true super villain, just before the hero exploits your only weakness and unleashes a horde of advanced nanotube-tearing nanobots on you.

Re:NOT Healing (2, Funny)

AdmiralWeirdbeard (832807) | about 6 years ago | (#22814586)

As long as I could still shout "OH NOOOO MY EVIL PLAAAAAAaaaannnssssss," as I died, it would be *totally* worth it.

Re:NOT Healing (1)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | about 6 years ago | (#22815482)

ohhh yes. Especially If you raised a defiant robot fist at the end which broke apart and disintegrated as your last mournful cry echoed out over the devastated battle ground. That would be freaking sweet.

Ok, you get started with the giant robot, and I'll get to work on the nanobots.

Re:NOT Healing (1)

Enleth (947766) | about 6 years ago | (#22812622)

Actually, biological muscles aren't healing beyond minor damage either. Damaged areas are patched with connective tissue, so the damage doesn't spread and affect the muscle as a whole in a significant way, but the fibers affected will remain a bit weaker.

Re:NOT Healing (1)

foniksonik (573572) | about 6 years ago | (#22819282)

In general biological systems don't *heal* - they isolate, scar over, then grow new tissue under the scar tissue and eventually slough off the old scar tissue as a standard process along with any *old* tissue.

So what the artificial muscle needs is a means to add new *tissue* and a means to evacuate dead *tissue*

I can see a method similar to what insects use for their carapace as a viable way to do this... but that's a whole new challenge.

Better than the real thing (0)

neurolux (1150083) | about 6 years ago | (#22811926)

Human ingenuity beats "intelligent design" yet again.

Re:Better than the real thing (1)

SomeGuyTyping (751195) | about 6 years ago | (#22811982)

If this ran on a tasty steak (like our muscles), then I'd say it could beat intelligent design

Re:Better than the real thing (2, Funny)

mikelu (120879) | about 6 years ago | (#22812306)

I'd say that in the modern world, cannibalism is a drawback, not a feature.

Re:Better than the real thing (3, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | about 6 years ago | (#22812046)

How exactly is it better than the real thing?
  1. it doesn't heal itself, just mitigates the damage.
  2. requires carbon nanotubes which would be very hard to manufacture inside a self contained unit.
  3. requires electricity.
Is it awesome? Yes. Is it better than human muscle? No, just different.

Re:Better than the real thing (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22812788)

1) Biological muscles don't repair beyond minor damage either. Be it nanotubes or protein-based fibers, either can and will break eventually, usually in tiny amounts at a time. Those ruptures are usually contained, but not repaired. Otherwise injuries wouldn't permanently debilitate the muscle nor we'd grow weaker as we grow older.
2) Well, that's why they're figuring out better production methods.
3) Er, biological muscles do need electricity too. Nervous system? Sodium-Potassium exchange?

Re:Better than the real thing (1)

agent_no.82 (935754) | about 6 years ago | (#22812966)

If it can exert more force/weight or more force/power, then it will be when it becomes practical. Ghost in the Shell much?

Re:Better than the real thing (2, Funny)

BenSchuarmer (922752) | about 6 years ago | (#22813628)

Is it better than human muscle? No, just different
Tell that to the cyborgs who will kick sand in your face at the beach in 10 years.

Re:Better than the real thing (1)

Itninja (937614) | about 6 years ago | (#22812134)

Aren't those the same thing? The 'ID' concept is the antithesis to the 'random chance' argument. There is no mention of that in TFA. Unless this is an attempt at sarcasm...

I for one welcome (-1, Redundant)

Tablizer (95088) | about 6 years ago | (#22811930)

...our brutish bionic overlords (not like we have a choice).

Re:I for one welcome (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22813772)

re: (Score:-1, Redundant)

Huh? Where's first?

Question (5, Insightful)

Sabz5150 (1230938) | about 6 years ago | (#22811932)

I'm no doctor, but...

We've made an artificial muscle that, when you apply electricity to it, it expands
Isn't that backwards?

Re:Question (1)

PowerVegetable (725053) | about 6 years ago | (#22811986)

I was about to say the same thing. How is an expanding material like a muscle again? One of the nice things about contracting actuators is that they don't buckle under load. This goes back to the 'pushing rope' concept. I'm calling "good work, but don't call it a muscle".

Re:Question (1)

khallow (566160) | about 6 years ago | (#22812220)

Aren't muscles constant volume? They expand perpendicular to the direction of contraction.

Re:Question (2, Interesting)

clonan (64380) | about 6 years ago | (#22812278)

Since muscle expansion and contraction is always referenced in the direction of force, the article disagrees with you.

The power stroke for a biological muscle is the contraction. While these "muscles" are interesting and could have many uses, powering limbs is not likely to be one in their current configuration.

Re:Question (1)

icegreentea (974342) | about 6 years ago | (#22812340)

Can't you still use them for prosthetics? For at least some of the simplier joints, I can see it working. You just have to reverse everything, so your bicep now opens your elbow, and your tricep closes it. But I agree, I would be much better if they figured out 'real muscle'.

Re:Question (3, Insightful)

clonan (64380) | about 6 years ago | (#22812376)

It is the "How do you push rope" question.

In order to be biologically uselfull they will need to be pliant and flexible. If they are pliant and flexible they won't have the tensile strength to move bones around.

Re:Question (1)

tabrnaker (741668) | about 6 years ago | (#22826954)

maybe we don't understand 'real muscle'? The easiest way to do a handstand is through expansion of your muscles. Contraction uses lots of energy and unbalances you very easily.

I remember when i thought (because that's the way i was taught) muscles 'worked' through contraction. I could maybe do a handstand for 5 secs. Now, through expansion, i can stand on my hands for minutes.

Check out the angle on the arms of gymnasts doing handstands.

It's just like the idea that western scientists have that walking involves falling forward. That's only the way people walk when they don't know how to walk properly :) Very energy consuming, much easier to glide your center of gravity forward *without tilting your pelvis forward*(westerners and their lordosis :P) and your feet automatically stay under your pelvis and center of gravity.

Re:Question (1)

owlnation (858981) | about 6 years ago | (#22812534)

Aren't muscles constant volume? They expand perpendicular to the direction of contraction.
Yes. "Expand" They keep using that word, but I do not think it means what they think it means. Human muscles contract and relax . Not the same thing at all.

Re:Question (1)

khallow (566160) | about 6 years ago | (#22815294)

I know that, but I was guessing that they might be refering to expansion in another direction. Like muscles maybe?

I have an application (5, Funny)

iknownuttin (1099999) | about 6 years ago | (#22812252)

I'm no doctor, but... We've made an artificial muscle that, when you apply electricity to it, it expands Isn't that backwards?

Well, I see great applications in artificial penises. Much better than the pump ones!

Re:I have an application (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | about 6 years ago | (#22812678)

200 times its original size.... Are we changing the measurement to feet instead on inches (or meters instead of cm/mm for the rest of the world)

Re:I have an application (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22812742)

I'm no doctor, but... We've made an artificial muscle that, when you apply electricity to it, it expands Isn't that backwards?
Well, I see great applications in artificial penises. Much better than the pump ones!
Not only that but think of the possible applications to the real thing.

1. "Root" Kit is actually a desirable event for some.
2. Added vibration effect.
3. Added undulation effect.
4. Don't go soft till you tell it to.
5. No more typing with just one hand.
6. Controllable add on tickler devices.
7. Variable length and girth with regards to err, structural limits.
8. After market mods.
9. Ad Infitum possibilities limited only by imagination and human construction, include adaptations to the vagina via similar product.


1. Stick with manufacturer recommended batteries.
2. Flesh has its limits, don't exceed them.
3. If at work or in public, careful with number 5 above.
4. Legal ramifications of aftermarket mods. Should make for some interesting lawsuits.
5. Poor design could tie things in knots.
6. Someone in government will want to force you to obtain an operator's license.
6a. Government requires you accept whomever is assigned to you for the license's test regardless of sex, race or national origin.
7. More issues will no doubt turn up.

Re:I have an application (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | about 6 years ago | (#22812860)

Not so sure.. a penis isn't a muscle... it expands due to blood pressure not due to muscular action. An expanding material just isn't going to have the same strength.

I get email about this all the time (1)

GeekAlpha (1089671) | about 6 years ago | (#22813236)

You know, they make a pill that will put that strength right back into your expanding material!

Re:Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22812644)

The way I remember it, the contraction of a muscle is the release of energy, and it takes energy to return it to its relaxed state.

Nanotechnology is very interesting. (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | about 6 years ago | (#22811934)

When I first heard about nanotechnology, all I saw was people creating pretty shapes with it. Now after only a few short years we have NanoSolar [nanosolar.com] and stuff like this muscle... I really start to wonder what could be around the corner.

Re:Nanotechnology is very interesting. (3, Funny)

CRCulver (715279) | about 6 years ago | (#22812054)

I really start to wonder what could be around the corner.

Grey goo?

Re:Nanotechnology is very interesting. (2, Informative)

clonan (64380) | about 6 years ago | (#22812202)

Nah, Grey Goo is thermodynamically impossible...

To get nano scale replicators you would get an extremly complex molecule/molecule system and at the same time to manipulate it on an atom scale you would need very high energy concentrations.

One thing we know from biochem is that very large molecules (like DNA, proteins etc) don't last long in high energy environments.

Nanotech replicators will requier very controlled environments and very high energy working medium to function. Outside of thoes controlled conditions they would "starve" and fall apart.

Re:Nanotechnology is very interesting. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22813170)

Just make them use solar power instead of chemical power and allow some variation of materials in the plan and suddenly it *is* possible. You'd pretty much have to do it on purpose and it would be really, really hard, but I think possible.

Re:Nanotechnology is very interesting. (1)

clonan (64380) | about 6 years ago | (#22815372)

100 watts/meter^2 (solar flux assuming a 100% conversion) is several orders of magnitude too low....you would need to provide each assembler a small nuclear power plant so it would have enough power to maintain itself AND create more.

Look at how much space solar needs to power an average home...

The world is extremely messy and active nanotech like would be necessary for the "Gray Goo" scenario are going to be very fragile.

Only in a highly controlled environment will they be practicle.

Re:Nanotechnology is very interesting. (3, Insightful)

susano_otter (123650) | about 6 years ago | (#22812902)

Given that the earth is full of nanomachine colonies trying desperately to consume all available resources and expand indefinitely, I'm pretty sure grey goo won't be all that interesting. If algae and fungi haven't taken over the world after several billion years of trying...

Re:Nanotechnology is very interesting. (1)

bindo (82607) | about 6 years ago | (#22817532)

You are correct.
Technology is hardly as resilient as nature, which will adapt and contain if not wipe grey goo off the planet. Just give it time :)

Obviously we hardly will be the tool of nature in this; nor will the gray goo or the "natural response" care of what could happen to us in the mean time. (read: wiped out :))

I am very skeptical of grey goo so I liked your angle and fell for it for a couple of secs. But really, should grey goo arise, only cockroaches and anything simpler have a chance to survive. Something WILL surely survive and put grey goo in an ecological balance. Intereseting, but not tranquilizer :)


Re:Nanotechnology is very interesting. (1)

susano_otter (123650) | about 6 years ago | (#22830448)

You mistake my point. I'm not saying that natural competitors will defeat grey goo. I'm saying that I don't expect grey goo to outperform algae, or fungi. If these advanced evolutionary products still haven't figured out how to find enough material and energy resources to take over the world, I doubt grey goo will somehow outperform them.

Unless by "grey goo" you mean "nanomachines that can magically find sources of food an energy millions of times more abundant than those available to similar, naturally-evolving nanomachine colonies". Which is fine, I guess. If you can show that the "magic" is a plausible and imminent technological advance.

Re:Nanotechnology is very interesting. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22812836)

I really start to wonder what could be around the corner.
The proper time to panic is when we've become advanced enough that the whatever it is around the corner has the ability to wonder about us.

Well... Here comes a whole new round of PENIS (2, Insightful)

bagboy (630125) | about 6 years ago | (#22811940)


Re:Well... Here comes a whole new round of PENIS (1)

gnick (1211984) | about 6 years ago | (#22812336)

I don't see this getting all the way to the "Enlarge your member" spammers. As soon as somebody got to the line, "Simply apply voltage to your...", the sale would be out the window.

They generate electricity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22811966)

Wouldn't that put us one step closer to this [wikipedia.org]?

Amazing! (2, Insightful)

MaWeiTao (908546) | about 6 years ago | (#22811980)

Is there anything carbon nanotubes can't do? Every few weeks I read about some new application for those things; space elevators, batteries, muscles, it just doesn't end. I'm honestly impressed.

Re:Amazing! (0, Redundant)

corbettw (214229) | about 6 years ago | (#22812044)

Is there anything carbon nanotubes can't do?
They can't get a job instead of sitting in front of their X-Box all day.

Oh, you said "carbon nanotubes", not "sons". My bad.

Re:Amazing! (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | about 6 years ago | (#22812078)

Umm, be economically viable in any application up to this point? They're extremely useful in all sorts of theories, but they've been worthless for consumers thus far. There was a time when the words "carbon nanotube" made me sit up and listen, now it just makes me yawn.

Re:Amazing! (1)

Bryansix (761547) | about 6 years ago | (#22812332)

All the things he mentioned are not economically viable. However Carbon Nanotubes are already being used to stiffen items made with carbon fiber. This includes bicycles among other things. So there are some viable applications.

Re:Amazing! (1)

Khyber (864651) | about 6 years ago | (#22813270)

Carbon nanotubes cannot act as veins/arteries, at least as of yet. When that happens, humanity will be taking a whole new direction, at least in the commerce section.

Self healing? (5, Informative)

ruin20 (1242396) | about 6 years ago | (#22812002)

The system isn't so much self healing as failure resistant. The fact that broken nanotubes seal themselves in order to prevent damage from spreading doesn't mean that they are self healing, just that they don't propagate failure. They don't regain strength over time after being damaged. Also the fact that they recover 70% of energy used doesn't make them energy efficient, energy efficient would be to find out that the energy used to exert a force over a distance or the power required to get the actuator to push a load at a velocity was nearly equivalent to the electrical input. Plus even if it was really efficient you still need to supply the power in the first place, so there's a high overhead. Even at 100% efficiency for the non-recoverable energy, you'd be supplying 333% of what you got out in physical labor from the device.

Re:Self healing? (1)

Tempest451 (791438) | about 6 years ago | (#22812066)

But still are human muscles that efficient?

Mods - Look at GP^ (1)

glavenoid (636808) | about 6 years ago | (#22812222)

I will make no statement as to the parent's %age claims, but the general thesis *seems* to be fundamentally correct. Whether or not human muscles are that efficient is by definition moot(pertaining to this /. discussion).

Re:Self healing? (3, Funny)

ArcherB (796902) | about 6 years ago | (#22812420)

But still are human muscles that efficient?
I don't know what the exact numbers are, but when this thing can work all day on a bowl of rice, we'll call it more efficient.

Re:Self healing? (1)

blind monkey 3 (773904) | about 6 years ago | (#22812674)

Bowl of rice? luxury I tell you! Back when I was young I had to work all week on a piece stale bread (you try standing on a piece of stale bread all week).

Re:Self healing? (4, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 6 years ago | (#22812684)

Well calories convert to joules, so say a 1500-calorie (kcal, because food calories are kilocalories for whatever reason) diet converts to (1,500,000 * 4.18) = 6,270,000 joules, which converts to about 2 kilowatt hours...So enough juice to run your microwave for a couple of hours, or a 100watt bulb for 20 hours.

Not too shabby for the amount of energy in a "Double Whopper" meal (with cheese) from Burger King.

Re:Self healing? (1)

Bryansix (761547) | about 6 years ago | (#22812362)

Yikes! Didn't you learn about kinetic and potential energy when you were a kid? If a robot arm using this muscle is used to lift something then it creates potential energy. When that object is put down it will be changed to kinetic energy and that's where the muscle could recover part of the energy it used to lift the item in the first place.

Re:Self healing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22812404)

According to wikipedia, human muscle isn't very efficient at all: "The efficiency of human muscle has been measured (in the context of rowing and cycling) at 14% to 27%" I don't think any of that is recovered energy either Human muscle also doesn't seal itself to prevent further damage. Not arguing that the nanotube solution is superior, only that it has some of its own features that are superior.

Artificial muscles (1)

sabt-pestnu (967671) | about 6 years ago | (#22812094)

Reports of our new Giant Mecha [wikipedia.org] Overlords have been exaggerated.

TFA doesn't mention size, that I saw, but if you can cause non-negligible damage with a pin, I'm guessing the mecha would have to be measured in mm or cm rather than meters...

Contraction speed (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22812136)

One big question about artificial muscles is about the time required for the muscle to contract. One can make an artificial muscle out of an aligned block copolymer, but it would generally take hours to do anything after the electric potential is applied.

Reversibility, flexibility, bio-compatibility, and tensile strength are also important considerations. When the article is published in Advanced Materials, I'm actually going to read it to find out.

Re:Contraction speed (1)

Tempest451 (791438) | about 6 years ago | (#22812416)

I think these are good points that need to be addressed before we can actually call the material "revolutionary".

BAD pun, BAD! (2, Funny)

RobertB-DC (622190) | about 6 years ago | (#22812250)

From TFA:
Artificial muscles have been around for years but have essentially hamstrung themselves. Some artificial muscles get so big they tear, developing uneven film thickness and random particles that cause muscle failure.

Grooooooan. I guess I'm dating myself, but I remember when the Discovery Channel had something to do with "science". :(

Re:BAD pun, BAD! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22812590)

I guess I'm dating myself...
You're not alone... A lot of slashdot readers are dating themselves.

Healing Muscles? (1)

aleone (1255960) | about 6 years ago | (#22812274)

I don't think its quite accurate to say that the muscles "heal" themselves. Its more that they don't get worse once damaged. Some function/efficiency will likely be lost and as damage accumulates they can still fail. I have some friends working at MIT on actuated knees and fingers and some of the current major roadblocks to further progress have a lot to do with limitations with artificial muscle technology. This research seems promising, as it seems to prevent a short circuit of sorts.

Ah'll be bahck (3, Funny)

Ihmhi (1206036) | about 6 years ago | (#22812634)

Wait, so they've invented a muscle that can isolate damage and keep on going? Didn't anyone learn ANYTHING from Terminator 2? T-1000, here we come...

A new wave of spam is sure to follow ... (1)

cpricejones (950353) | about 6 years ago | (#22812694)


Just in time for season 4 (1)

wooden pickle (1006975) | about 6 years ago | (#22812792)

The Cylons were created by Man.
They Rebelled.
They Evolved.
There are many copies.
And they have a Plan.

Re:Just in time for season 4 (1)

Count_Froggy (781541) | about 6 years ago | (#22812840)

Does this quality as 'intelligent design'?? Are humans intelligent (dispite evidence to the contrary)?

Re:Just in time for season 4 (2, Funny)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | about 6 years ago | (#22812882)

... and they have a self healing artifical penis that expands to up to 100 times its original size.

plus 4, Troll) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22812878)

and the bottom is not prone to many users of BSD fear the reaper despite the have an IRC client private sex party OpenBSD. How many Do and doing what

Carbon Nanotubes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22813548)

I anonymously think that carbonnanotubes should be a tag, seeing as how they appear to be the next big miracle invention.

Mechs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22813904)

Geek Moment. So, how long until we're using this as the basis for the artificial muscles in mechs?

Another expansion (2, Interesting)

brassman (112558) | about 6 years ago | (#22814314)

"As the material contracts after an expansion the rearranging of the carbon nanotubes generates a small electric current that can be captured and used to power another expansion or stored in a battery."

The other expansion should not be of the same muscle, of course; alternate between two opposing muscles and you can get a very efficient walking motion going.

(I said "walking," dammit, not "wanking!")

All of the posts complaining that "muscles should contract, not expand" -- hey, it's not that hard to use an expansion to create a useful pulling force. Wrap an elastic sleeve around it that will get shorter as it gets rounder, and mechanically it will work very much like a muscle.

Electric flags (1)

cavebison (1107959) | about 6 years ago | (#22816934)

I found the bit on generating electricity interesting.

Imagine flags that generate electricity just by flapping in the wind. Every electric car could have a few, same with ships. Wind farms would be fields of flags instead of propellers, much more space-efficient. Sounds wonderful.

Pull a hatch off a Tank? (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | about 6 years ago | (#22819820)

Could you pull a hatch off a tank if you had muscles made of this material? Or would they break themselves against the strain?

I can build my Mad Cat now.. (1)

lordmage (124376) | about 6 years ago | (#22822790)

That we have Myomer Muscles..

Lesse.. only thing left is a Mini-Fusion plant.. and then I will have all the Mechs I want.

Next item on agenda: Change name to Nicolas Kerensky
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