Smart foam allows robotic hand to self-heal

Watch how this robot can tell when an object is close.

It’s all thanks to a smart foam material developed by researchers at the National University of Singapore.

It can sense proximity, pressure, and it even self-heals – just like "human skin."

The idea is to apply the smart foam onto robotic hands to make robots more intelligent and responsive to human presence.

To replicate the human sense of touch, the sponge-like AiFoam has been infused with microscopic metal particles with tiny electrodes underneath the surface.

When pressure is applied, the metal particles become closer within the polymer matrix, changing the electrical properties.

These changes can be picked up by the electrodes connected through flexible wires to a computer, which then tells the robot what to do.

Benjamin Tee is the lead researcher on the project.

"I think there are many applications for such a material, especially in robotics and prosthetic devices, where robots need to be a lot more intelligent when working around humans. So for example, if you're near a human, the robot won't actually harm you, because they can detect your presence, even before you actually touch them. It can also allow prosthetic users to have more intuitive use of their robotic arms when grabbing objects and using in their daily activities."

Courtesy: Materials Sciences and Engineering, National University of Singapore

The smart foam can also repair itself when damaged.

Check out this piece for instance.

When cut into half, it can fuse back into one piece.

(Benjamin Tee) "So we developed the material by incorporating unique metal particles into a self-healable polymer that is able to self repair and at the same time sense electrical fields around the material, and that's how it can detect proximity and pressure at the same time."

They hope the material could be put into practical use within the next five years.

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