Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Soft Robot Heals Like Human Skin

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A team of researchers from Cornell University have designed a soft robot capable of healing itself using light for dynamic sensing.

Researchers installed SHeaLDS—self-healing light guides for dynamic sensing—in a soft robot resembling a four-legged starfish and equipped with feedback control. After the researchers punctured one of its legs, the robot was able to detect the damage and self-heal the cuts. Credit: Cornell University

Researchers have created a soft robot capable of detecting when and where it was damaged—and then healing itself on the spot. They have developed stretchable fiber-optic sensors for creating soft robots and its components – from skin to wearables.

“If you make robots operate for a long time, they’re going to accumulate damage. And so how can we allow them to repair or deal with that damage?” said Rob Shepherd, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. According to Prof. Shepherd, the first step for self healing to work is that the robot must be able to identify that there is, in fact, something that needs to be fixed.

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The team of researchers pioneered a technique using fiber-optic sensors coupled with LED lights capable of detecting minute changes on the surface of the robot. When combined with a polyurethane urea elastomer that incorporates hydrogen bonds and disulfide exchanges, these sensors showcase rapid healing and strength. The resulting SHeaLDS—self-healing light guides for dynamic sensing—provides a damage-resistant soft robot that can self-heal from cuts at room temperature without any external intervention.

Researchers demonstrated the technology by installing the SHeaLDS in a soft robot resembling a four-legged starfish and equipped it with feedback control. Researchers then punctured one of its legs six times, after which the robot was then able to detect the damage and self-heal each cut in about a minute. The robot could also autonomously adapt its gait based on the damage it sensed.

“They have similar properties to human flesh,” Shepherd said. “You don’t heal well from burning, or from things with acid or heat, because that will change the chemical properties. But we can do a good job of healing from cuts.” Reseachers plan to integrate these SHeaLDS with machine learning algorithms capable of recognizing tactile events to eventually create “a very enduring robot that has a self-healing skin but uses the same skin to feel its environment to be able to do more tasks.”

References : Hedan Bai et al, Autonomous self-healing optical sensors for damage intelligent soft-bodied systems, Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abq2104


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