Like many in Silicon Valley, Alex Beavers believes brain power trumps muscle power, and he has the prototypes to prove it.

The electroactive polymers produced by his company Artificial Muscle respond to an electrical charge in much the same way that human muscle responds to nerve impulses: by expanding and contracting.

Though the electrode-flecked plastic tubes are not much to look at, they represent a significant scientific breakthrough that could have repercussions in a multitude of industries, says Beavers, chief executive of Artificial Muscle, a Menlo Park start-up.

Beavers sees polymers replacing small electric motors and pumps in all sorts of medical, consumer, automotive and aerospace products. Their advantage is that they are smaller, lighter and cheaper than comparable motors, he says.

Scientists at SRI International, a non-profit research organization, developed the technology over the past 12 years with about $20 million in funding from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Artificial Muscle was recently spun off as a commercial company that will tailor the technology to fit the needs of specific customers — and market a few products of its own.

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