Iranian Researcher Develops 'Self-Healing' Material for Robots

Saturday, May 26, 2018 - 11:27

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have developed a new self-healing material that allows machines to repair themselves under extreme mechanical damage.

Prof. Carmel Majidi, who directs the Integrated Soft Materials Laboratory, is a pioneer in developing new classes of materials in the fields of soft matter engineering and soft robotics.

In findings published in Nature Materials, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have created a self-healing material that spontaneously repairs itself under extreme mechanical damage, EurekAlert reports.

"If we want to build machines that are more compatible with the human body and the natural environment, we have to start with new types of materials," said Carmel Majidi, an engineer at Carnegie Mellon University who directs the Integrated Soft Materials Laboratory.

Researchers say their material is known as a "stretchable electronic," an evolving technology that combines electronic circuits and sensors with flexible elastic material.

This soft-matter composite material is composed of liquid metal droplets suspended in a soft elastomer. When damaged, the droplets rupture to form new connections with neighboring droplets and reroute electrical signals without interruption. Circuits produced with conductive traces of this material remain fully and continuously operational when severed, punctured, or had material removed.

“Other research in soft electronics has resulted in materials that are elastic and deformable, but still vulnerable to mechanical damage that causes immediate electrical failure,” said Carmel Majidi, “The unprecedented level of functionality of our self-healing material can enable soft-matter electronics and machines to exhibit the extraordinary resilience of soft biological tissue and organisms.”

Applications for its use include bio-inspired robotics, human-machine interaction, and wearable computing. Because the material also exhibits high electrical conductivity that does not change when stretched, it is ideal for use in power and data transmission. Think of a first responder robot that can rescue humans during an emergency without sustaining damage, a health-monitoring device on an athlete during rigorous training, or an inflatable structure that can withstand environmental extremes on Mars.

Researchers in Belgium last year created a robotic hand filled with a "jellylike" substance that can self-repair when heat is applied, according to New Scientist. "When you add heat, they reorganise to stick back together without leaving any weak spots."

Bram Vanderborght, one of the five researchers behind that project, told the publication he envisioned the technology being used in the food industry or in factory lines, where robots with softer appendages could be useful.

"A robot is very complex and difficult to repair. And the soft robots are particularly susceptible to sharp objects and high pressure," Vanderborght said. "This research is the first step in introducing self-healing materials in soft robotics, which we think will start a whole new research field of self-healing robotics."

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