Researchers from the EU-funded SHERO (Self-Healing Soft Robotics) project are developing soft self-healing materials for robots that autonomously restore themselves with out human influence. The ultimate objective of the project is to create full robotic systems that are capable of feeling pain (at the microscopic and macroscopic levels), react accordingly to relieve said pain, take action to heal the damage, restore all features, undergo rehabilitation, and finally return to work — a lofty goal by any standards, but a worthy one.
Most soft materials — rubber, silicone, and plastics — may be repaired utilizing any number of strategies (glue, heat, tape, etc.), but it surely takes human intervention to determine the problem then fix them, which takes time and money. SHERO’s materials will shift these actions over to the robots, where they will determine the problem and heal themselves. According to SHERO, “These soft robotic techniques will be capable to sense and consider the loss of performance and heal damage due to fatigue, overloading, and injuries by sharp objects present in dynamic environments or by human contact.”
The researchers are developing two different types of self-healing materials, with the primary healing itself when heat is utilized both internally, or externally. Which means that when a robot becomes damaged, it may use onboard warmth for repairs, or head to some heating station after figuring out the damaged area.
The second sort of material is autonomous, which means it may heal at room temperature without any inside/external intervention; however, this type is best suited for minor injuries and scrapes. There’s a drawback with utilizing this material, because it takes time to self-heal. According to the researchers, the healing efficiency after three, seven, and fourteen days is 62%, 91%, and 97% respectively. Both of the materials can be combined, customising their properties for different applications. The researchers also plan on introducing sensors to the materials that can assist robots sense the amount of damage it’s received, as well as providing position feedback for control systems.