Follow for more talkers

Terminator-style self-healing robot can detect damage and heal itself

Avatar photo


The self-healing robot. (Cornell University via SWNS)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

A Terminator-style self-healing robot that detects damage and mends itself on the spot has been developed by scientists.

The 'soft' machine has similar properties to human flesh and was slashed and stabbed by scientists in experiments to show its healing.

The robot mended itself every time and it is hoped one day it could help get astronauts to Mars.

It fixes punctures in just 60 seconds thanks to optical sensors. Current spacesuits only protect against tiny particles of debris.

Project head Professor Rob Shepherd, of Cornell University, said: "Our lab is always trying to make robots more enduring and agile, so they operate longer with more capabilities.

"The thing is, 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 prototype is less than five inches long and shaped like a starfish. It can venture into a range of environments - from deep underwater to distant outer space.

SHeaLDS (Self-Healing Light guides for Dynamic Sensing) has the power and means to get there - and can take good care of itself.

It can 'recover' even if stabbed or gashed with a knife - evoking visions of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the cyborg assassin in the famous franchise.

The flexible quadruped moves using compressed air that is pushed through its body, making it undulate and lift its four legs.

The top is covered in a layer of self-healing sensors made from a transparent rubbery material that tracks motion.

(Cornell University via SWNS)

If the sensor is cut, its exposed sides become chemically reactive, allowing it to fuse back together.

The US team tested the robot's 'damage intelligence' by stabbing a sensor on its leg six times.

It stopped for about a minute after each cut - then resumed moving. In another experiment, the leg sensors were stabbed one at a time.

After each stab, the robot stopped to heal for a few minutes and then changed its gait in response to the damage.

Lead author Hedan Bai, a doctoral student at Northwestern University, Illinois, told New Scientist: "We really tried to torture these sensors as much as we can."

Robots made of soft and deformable materials can change their body shape and imitate muscles for prosthetics.

But simulated biological tissue is vulnerable to harm. The optical sensors contain a composite material to signal when and where damage occurs.

The first step for repair is that the robot must be able to identify that there is, in fact, something that needs to be fixed.

Shepherd's Organic Robotics Lab uses stretchable fiber-optic sensors to make soft robots and related components - from skin to wearable technology – as nimble and practical as possible.

Light from a LED is sent through an optical waveguide. A photodiode detects changes in the beam’s intensity to determine when the material is being deformed.

One of the virtues of the technology is waveguides are still able to propagate light if they are punctured or cut.

(Cornell University via SWNS)

The researchers combined the sensors with a rubbery material for rapid healing and a chemical cocktail for added strength.

They said while SHeaLDS, described in Science Advances, is sturdy, it is not indestructible.

Shepherd said: "It has similar properties to human flesh. 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."

He plans to integrate the SHeaLDS with machine learning algorithms that recognize tactile events.

It will create "a very enduring robot that has a self-healing skin, but uses the same skin to feel its environment to be able to do more tasks," Shepherd added.

Stories and infographics by ‘Talker Research’ are available to download & ready to use. Stories and videos by ‘Talker News’ are managed by SWNS. To license content for editorial or commercial use and to see the full scope of SWNS content, please email [email protected] or submit an inquiry via our contact form.

Top Talkers