Robots can now repair themselves with smart foam material
SINGAPORE: A team of researchers from Singapore has developed a smart foam material that enables robots to sense objects near them and self-repair when injured or broken, similar to wound healing in humans.
AiFoam, also known as the artificial innervated foam is a highly elastic polymer produced by combining fluoropolymer with a compound that reduces surface tension. The researchers at the National University of Singapore state that this process assists the spongy material to blend smoothly into one piece when split.
Benjamin Tee, the lead researcher says, “There are many purposes for such a material, particularly in robotics and prosthetic tools, where robots require to be a lot smarter when operating nearby humans.”
Tee reveals that the researchers implanted the material with tiny metal particles and also added small electrodes beneath the surface of the foam to duplicate the human sensation of touch. When force is employed, the metal particles move closer inside the polymer matrix, alternating their electrical properties. These modifications can be identified by the electrodes joined to a computer, which quickly directs the robot about what to do.
“When I move my finger near the sensor, you can see the sensor is measuring the changes of my electrical field and responds accordingly to my touch,” he demonstrates. This innovation
allows the robotic hand to know the quantity, also the direction of force, making them more smart and interactive.
Tee concludes that AiFoam is the first to join both self-healing qualities and vicinity and force sensing. The research team has spent over two years perfecting it and now believe that the material can be put into practice in the coming five years. Tee endorses that this research can also provide prosthetic users to have more intuitive command of their robotic arms while grasping things.