Repeated activity wears on soft robotic actuators, but these machines' moving parts need to be reliable and easily fixed. Now a team of researchers has a biosynthetic polymer, patterned after squid ring teeth, that is self-healing and biodegradable, creating a material not only good for actuators, but also for hazmat suits and other applications where tiny holes could cause a danger. "Current self-healing materials have shortcomings that limit their practical application, such as low healing strength and long healing times (hours)," the researchers report in today's (July 27) issue of Nature Materials. The researchers produced high-strength synthetic proteins that mimic those found in nature. Like the creatures they are patterned on, the proteins can self-heal both minute and visible damage.
The BBC's Circular Economy series highlights the ways we are designing systems to reduce the waste modern society generates, by reusing and repurposing products. This week we look at the prospects for hi-tech materials that can heal themselves. You don't have to be a liquid metal cyborg assassin from Terminator 2 to know that the ability to self-heal can be pretty useful. After all, our bodies do it all the time, so what if our phones, prone to cracks and scratches, could do it too? In January, tech giant Samsung filed a patent for an "anti-fingerprinting composition having a self-healing property" and there's been speculation that such a coating might give its next smartphone the S10, which comes out in early 2019, the ability to self-heal small scratches too.
Along with super-human strength and the ability to look great in chrome, robots can now add another talent to their box of tricks: self-healing. Roboticists have long aimed to use soft flexible materials, but these have a propensity to break making them unfit for purpose. A new technique can create soft robots that heal themselves when things go wrong. To prove the concept, researchers at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) in Belgium created a gripper, a robot hand and an artificial muscle, all with the ability to self-heal, out of rubbery polymers that look a bit like jelly. When ripped or cut they can knit back together completely.
They can squish into tight locations for search-and-rescue missions, for instance, and pick up fragile objects without breaking or damaging them. Unfortunately, they're also more prone to damage, especially if they're bound to come across sharp edges in their environments. To solve that problem, a team of researchers from Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium have developed a way to create soft machines that can heal themselves -- all you have to do is add heat. The researchers proved that their method works by making a gripper, a robotic hand and an artificial muscle with self-healing properties. This self-healing property could lead to soft robots' deployment in factories to handle fruits and other delicate items, as well as to their use for actual search-and-rescue missions.