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"I realized there was a heavy-duty change coming in biology, and I could write a really compelling novel about catastrophic evolution, punctuated equilibrium."
- Greg Bear

Quasi-Muscles (Sham Musculature)  
  A means of giving motive power to robots or machines that is similar to animal musculature.  

This is a very early reference to an idea that is important to many modern robots - the ability to mimic the smooth (and often quick) motions of living creatures.

And not only did the Martians either not know of (which is incredible), or abstain from, the wheel, but in their apparatus singularly little use is made of the fixed pivot or relatively fixed pivot, with circular motions thereabout confined to one plane. Almost all the joints of the machinery present a complicated system of sliding parts moving over small but beautifully curved friction bearings. And while upon this matter of detail, it is remarkable that the long leverages of their machines are in most cases actuated by a sort of sham musculature of the disks in an elastic sheath; these disks become polarised and drawn closely and powerfully together when traversed by a current of electricity. In this way the curious parallelism to animal motions, which was so striking and disturbing to the human beholder, was attained.

Such quasi-muscles abounded in the crablike handling-machine which, on my first peeping out of the slit, I watched unpacking the cylinder. It seemed infinitely more alive than the actual Martians lying beyond it in the sunset light, panting, stirring ineffectual tentacles, and moving feebly after their vast journey across space.

From The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells.
Published by Unknown in 1898
Additional resources -

Wells does a remarkable job of visualizing mechanical devices that mimic the smooth motions of animals; biomimicry, as it is called, is a key concept in modern robotics.

Readers have also mentioned that In Battletech, the giant robot "mechs" are powered by an artificial muscle called "Myomer", a fibrous material consisting of microscopically thin tubes filled with a substance (acti-strandular fiber) that contracts when voltage is applied.

Myomer is an artificial analog of biological muscles with a greater strength to weight ratio. They are engaged with electrical current and its strength depends on the amount of fibers activated, not the current provided.


(Battletech Wiki)

Myomer requires large amounts of electrical voltage to function, with the larger "muscles" obviously requiring more energy than smaller ones. However, they have high electrical resistance, causing large amounts of waste heat which needs to be dispersed or the fibers will fry themselves. This does however grant an advantage as myomer cannot be stunned by electrical discharges. Additionally, metal armor and skeletons have a low electrical resistance, channeling and discharging any strong electrical hits into the ground.

Also, compare to artificial muscles from Martin Caidin's 1972 novel Cyborg.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The War of the Worlds
  More Ideas and Technology by H.G. Wells
  Tech news articles related to The War of the Worlds
  Tech news articles related to works by H.G. Wells

Quasi-Muscles (Sham Musculature)-related news articles:
  - Carbon Nanotube Muscles
  - Biomimetic Artificial Muscles
  - Artificial Muscles To Power UAV Drone Wings
  - Humanoid Robot's Muscles Biomimic Ours

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