The new foam material developed can allow robotic arms to self-repair.
Researchers at the National University Singapore have developed a smart foam material that has the ability to heal and repair itself. The foam (Artificially innervated foam), a highly elastic polymer was created by mixing fluoropolymer with a compound that lowers surface tension. According to the researchers, this allows the spongy material to fuse easily into one piece when cut or damaged.
“There are many applications for such a material, especially in robotics and prosthetic devices, where robots need to be a lot more intelligent when working around humans,” explained lead researcher Benjamin Tee.
This material can be of great use to robotics design engineers and can enable the development of smart prosthetic devices that feel more human-like.
In an attempt to replicate the human sense of touch, researchers infused the material with microscopic metal particles and added tiny electrodes underneath the surface of the foam. With applied pressure, the metal particles came closer within the polymer matrix changing the electrical properties. These changes could then be detected by the electrodes connected to a computer, which in turn gives the command to the robot. This feature can make robots more intelligent and interactive as it enables the robotic hand to detect not only the amount but also the direction of applied force.
“When I move my finger near the sensor, you can see the sensor is measuring the changes of my electrical field and responds accordingly to my touch,“ said Tee.
“It can also allow prosthetic users to have more intuitive use of their robotic arms when grabbing objects,“ he said.
Tee and his team believe that the AiFoam is the first of its kind and has got the immense scope in practical usage. Its ability to combine both self-healing properties and proximity and pressure sensing promises a futuristic and intelligent robotic industry.