Self-healing robots can now heal and repair themselves!

Robotic hands (self-healing robots) can sense and fix the damage without human involvement created by EU projects.

Scientists have designed and developed soft robotic hands from jelly-like plastic that can do tasks like picking fruit to minor surgery.

But being soft and gentle made the robots prone to damage and left them largely impractical for use in the real world – until today.

The scientist from the Free University of Brussels and the University of Cambridge worked on a project funded by the European Commission, aims to create “self-healing” robots that can feel pain, or sense damage, before swiftly healing themselves up without human involvement.

Just within 40 minutes of the damage, these polymers developed by scientists can heal themselves by creating new bonds.

A robotic finger is damaged by a knife, left, and right after it has fixed the damage. 

The damage is detected by sensor fibers embedded in the polymer that helps the fealing process. The goal is to make the healing automated without outside help to activate the system.

Bram Vanderborght (professor), from the Free University for Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), who is managing the project, said the research was at the forefront of developing a new generation of robotics.

According to the professor “Over the past few years, we have already taken the first steps in creating self-healing materials for robots. With this research we want to continue and, above all, ensure that robots that are used in our working environment are safer, but also more sustainable. Due to the self-repair mechanism of this new kind of robots, complex, costly repairs may be a thing of the past.”

3D printed soft robotic hands, are able to manipulate fragile objects with dexterity and are much safer for humans to be found in environments such as factories and fields.

Grippers used for fruit and vegetable picking and placing are smooth to prevent bacteria and fungus growth.

But they are vulnerable to cracks and rips. The cost of robot replacement parts is said to be in excess of £320m a year.

The soft robotic hands are gentle enough to handle soft fruit such as strawberries. 

The process of self – healing is described as “anthropomorphic materials, capable of feeling pain”.

Self-healing soft robotic systems with autonomous polymers then exclude the need for additional heating devices and costs.

Based on lab trails the healing can take a second or up to a week depending on the extent and location of the damage.

Cambridge University is working alongside the Free University of Brussels and the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles, in Paris, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, and the Dutch polymer manufacturer SupraPolix.

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