Self-healing robots are a highly touted advancement in robotics. These robots are capable of detecting and repairing any harm they may sustain when operating in remote environments such as deep underground or space.
Therefore, Cornell University engineers developed a soft robot that can sense when and where it is harmed and then repair itself on the spot.
“Our lab is always trying to make robots more enduring and agile, so they operate longer with more capabilities,” said Rob Shepherd, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. “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?”
The Organic Robotics Lab at Shepherd’s has created stretchy fibre-optic sensors for soft robots and related components ranging from skin to wearable technology.
Shepard believes that the essential first step in self-healing is for the robot to recognize that there is, in fact, something that needs to be addressed.
Researchers pioneered a technology that uses fibre-optic sensors paired with LED lights to detect minute changes on the robot’s surface.
These sensors are coupled with a polyurethane urea elastomer that combines hydrogen bonding and disulphide exchanges for strength and healing.
The resulting SHeaLDS – self-healing light guides for dynamic sensing – is a damage-resistant soft robot that can self-heal from cuts at room temperature without needing external intervention.
The researchers implanted the SHeaLDS in a soft robot resembling a four-legged starfish and outfitted it with feedback control to demonstrate the technology. After researchers punctured one of its legs six times, the robot could detect the damage and self-heal each cut in less than a minute. The robot could also change its gait independently based on the damage it detected.
“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.”
Shepherd intends to combine SHeaLDS with machine learning algorithms capable of recognizing tactile events to build “a very enduring robot with a self-healing skin but uses the same skin to feel its environment to execute more tasks.”