A team of researchers at Cornell Engineering has developed a soft robot that can detect when and where it was damaged — and then heal itself on the spot.
Led by Rob Shepherd, Associate Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, the team combined optical sensors with a composite material to create the soft robot. For years, Shepherd’s Organic Robotics Lab has used stretchable fiber-optic sensors to make soft robots as nimble and practical as possible. In fiber-optic sensors, light from a LED is sent through an optical waveguide, and 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 that waveguides are still able to propagate light if they are punctured or cut. The researchers combined the sensors with a polyurethane urea elastomer that incorporated hydrogen bonds, for rapid healing, and disulfide exchanges, for strength. The resulting SHeaLDS — self-healing light guides for dynamic sensing — provide reliable dynamic sensing, are damage-resistant, and can self-heal from cuts at room temperature without any external intervention.
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
To make robots more enduring and agile. If robots are going to venture into remote environments that humans can’t reach, such as deep underwater or distant outer space, they won’t only require power and a means to get there — they’ll also need to be able to repair themselves.
Shepherd plans to integrate the SHeaLDS with machine learning algorithms that recognize tactile events to eventually 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.”