Researchers have developed a robot hand made from soft, flexible materials that can heal themselves when damaged.
Robots made from soft, flexible materials, have a wide variety of potential uses, such as grasping delicate objects during manufacturing processes, as medical aids, or as limb prostheses. However, one major drawback is that soft materials are susceptible to damage from sharp objects or excessive pressure. Repairing these robots is time consuming and requires expensive parts – until now. A team of researchers at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) in Belgium, working to develop a self-healing soft robot, have created a robot hand out of material that can heal itself when damaged.
The soft robot hand is made of a polymer that, when damaged, can recover its original shape and strength through being heated. The polymer consists of a network of cross-linked strands. When heated to around 80°C, the cross-links break, allowing new bonds to form, closing the gap made by the damage. Once cooled, the polymer regains its original properties. “Realistic damage could be healed completely without leaving any weak spot,” reports Bram Vanderborght, who led the team of five researchers. “The outcome of the research opens up promising perspectives. Robots can not only be made lighter and safer, they will also be able to work longer independently without requiring constant repairs.”
The results of the study, which was supported by the European Research Council were published in the journal Science Robotics. In the future, the VUB team will be working towards adding a sensor network to detect the health status of the robots, and eventually make the self-healing process automatic. What uses might be found for robots that can heal themselves?