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New Material Self-Heals Damaged Parts of Bio-Inspired Robotics

Self-healing material not only repairs physical damage but also restores impaired electrical connections in machines and robots

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University developed a new material, which has self-healing properties helping machines to repair themselves by rerouting power or data in case of cuts, punctures or even missing material after mechanical damage caused due to environmental hazards. The operation of new materials is based on liquid metal droplets, which are suspended in an elastomer. When the composite material encounters damage, the droplets burst, allowing them to make new connections with other nearby droplets. The researchers claim that the droplets are made of a gallium-based alloy, which can carry a rerouted electrical signal without interruption.

“If we want to build machines that are more compatible with the human body and the natural environment, we have to start with new types of materials,” said Carmel Majidi, research author. “The unprecedented level of functionality of our self-healing material can enable soft-matter electronics and machines to exhibit the extraordinary resilience of soft biological tissue and organisms.” Previous studies reported applications of self-healing membranes for fuel cells, a gel to repair cracks in bending electronics, self-repairing electrical insulators and a stretchy ionic conductor. Studies on soft electronics were focused on development of bendable materials, which is prone to failure when damaged.

Furthermore, study shows that this material has conductivity property when stretched, which can have applications in wearable technology. The researchers also mention inflatable technologies as another possibility. The study titled ‘Autonomously Self-Healing, Liquid Metal-Elastomer Composite for Robust Soft-Matter Electronics’ has been published in the journal Nature Materials in May 2018.