Robot, Heal Thyself

Soft robots are great helpmates for humans and are well-adapted to dynamic activities requiring flexibility and delicate intervention. But they are susceptible to cuts and punctures from contact with hard or sharp objects. Now, a research team at the Université Libre de Bruxelles seems to have found a solution. Drawing inspiration from natural processes, they used self-healing elastomers to create three soft pneumatic robots—a gripper, a hand and an artificial muscle. The article in Science Robotics describing this development indicated that the healing process is based on the Diels-Alder reaction in the thermoreversible covalent networks of the constituent polymers. If damaged, the soft elastomers repair themselves at the microscopic level when exposed to low heat. In addition, at the end of their useful life, the materials can be recycled. “At the location of the scar,” the article concluded, “no weak spots were created, and the full performance of the actuators was nearly completely recovered after healing.”

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