Researchers at Cambridge University have recently developed self-healing 3D-printed materials to develop realistic artificial hands and arms amongst other-soft robotics applications. The new materials are biodegradable and consist of inexpensive, jelly-like substances. These self-healing materials are capable of sensing temperature, humidity, and strain. Likewise, when at room temperature, the new materials can repair themselves, at least in part.
“Incorporating soft sensors into robotics allows us to get a lot more information from them, like how strain on our muscles allows our brains to get information about the state of our bodies,” said researcher and member of Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering, David Harman.
Self-healing Materials and Soft Sensor Technologies
Currently, soft-sensing technologies lack durability and consume copious amounts of energy. However, these technologies have the potential to transform the future of wearable devices, tactile interfaces and robotics.
The Cambridge research team developed the self-healing soft technology materials as part of the SHERO project. As of now, the materials can sense when they are damaged, temporarily heal themselves and resume their current task without any input from humans.
Robotics advancements are happening at a rapid pace. Researchers from the Dalian University of Technology created a haptic skin patch that allows the wearer to control a robot. Likewise, Robotics Centre And Smith Myers have announced a new drone payload for locating the mobile phones of missing persons during search and rescue mission.
Co-author of the peer-reviewed paper and member of the Cambridge Department of Engineering, Dr. Thomas George-Thuruthel, said, “We’ve been working with self-healing materials for several years, but now we’re looking into faster and cheaper ways to make self-healing robots.”
In early prototypes, the material couldn’t heal unless heated. However, materials are now in development that heals at room temperature, making them more useful in the real world.
The team started with gelatine-based material, which they integrated with sensors. By using Sodium chloride(salt) in place of carbon ink the research team was able to achieve the desired material properties. Additionally, the salt allows the sensors to sense stretches over three times the sensor’s original length, allowing for the use of the material in flexible robotic devices. Besides being cheap and easy to make, the researchers use only food-safe substances to create the self-healing materials.
“It’s a really good sensor considering how cheap and easy it is to make,” said George-Thuruthel. “We could make a whole robot out of gelatine and print the sensors wherever we need them.”