Self-healing robots for harsh conditions
Robots that heal themselves after being damaged have frequently appeared in science fiction movies. They are, however, now becoming less far-fetched since a recent breakthrough material has been developed which can achieve fast, autonomous self-healing results under all conditions, particularly in multiple harsh environments.
Synthetic materials that can mimic self-healing natural tissue, such as skin and muscle, have been developed and used for e-skin, wearable electronic devices and artificial muscles.
However, it remained challenging for global scientists to enable such materials to withstand extreme conditions, such as at ultra-low temperatures, in deep ocean water or in strong acidic or alkali environments.
To solve the problem, researchers from China’s Tianjin University have created an elastomer, an elastic rubber with the ability to self-heal, out of polymers that look like yellow jelly.
When cut into two pieces, the elastomer can stick back together completely without any external energy.
The experimental results, published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Communications, showed the new self-healing material realized rapid healing within 10 minutes at room temperature. It was also able to withstand more than 500 times its weight after healing.
The material also exhibited high healing efficiency in minus 40 degrees Celsius, in high-concentrated saltwater at minus 10 degrees Celsius, as well as in acidic and alkaline conditions, the study showed.
Lead researcher Zhang Lei said the study illustrated promising potential of the material, with highly stretchable and rapid self-healing properties in harsher conditions than ever before.
The research team is working on the further development of self-healing artificial e-skin applied in the deep sea and polar regions.
“The new material is expected to find uses in making robots, deep-sea detectors and other high-tech equipment,” Zhang said.