Artificial intelligence-enabled robots will be able to "feel pain" and recognize when they need to be repaired in the near future. As collaborative robots make their way from industries and labs into homes, this is becoming increasingly important.
Robots that operate alongside people must not only be able to function dexterously in order to assure human safety but they must also be made of materials that are more flexible than normal robotic materials.
(Related blog - What is RPA?)
Softer materials are less likely to cause injury, therefore this is a failsafe. Robots are being constructed utilizing materials other than rigid materials like metal and plastic as robotics technology develops.
Soft robotics is a branch of robotics that focuses on creating robots out of very flexible materials comparable to those found in living beings. It also takes inspiration from how creatures move and adapt to their surroundings.
Soft robots, as opposed to rigid robots, provide for greater flexibility and agility while doing tasks, as well as enhanced safety when working with people. Because of these properties, it can be used in minimally invasive surgery and food processing. They serve a vital role in prosthetics and rehabilitation.
( Must Read: Internet of Robotic Things )
What are Self-healing Robots?
Instead of traditional metal, self-healing robots are built of soft materials or polymers. These robots feature muscle-mimicking and self-healing capabilities, allowing them to not only mend themselves but also give greater flexibility and adaptability in a range of situations.
Watch this video on: How Self-Healing Robot Recovers from Damage
What is the mechanism of the self-healing material used in these Robots?
What these self-healing materials are capable of is truly incredible. The researchers are working on two distinct types: the first cures itself when heat is applied, either internally or externally, giving them some control over when and how the healing process begins.
For example, if the robot is handling unclean material, you should clean it before repairing it to prevent dirt from becoming entrenched in the material. This might imply that the robot either goes to a heating station or activates an inbuilt heating system to become more self-sufficient.
Read more on Self Healing Polymers.
The second type of self-healing material is autonomous, meaning it can mend itself at room temperature without any help, and it's probably better for tiny cuts and cracks. Heat is not required for autonomous self-healing polymers.
At room temperature, they can repair the damage. The use of autonomous self-healing polymers in the development of soft robotic systems eliminates the need for extra heating equipment. Healing, on the other hand, requires time.
After three days, seven days, and fourteen days, the healing efficiency is 62 percent, 91 percent, and 97 percent, respectively.
This material was utilized to create a soft pneumatic hand that could heal. Large wounds that are relevant can heal completely without the need for external heat stimulation.
Healing can take seconds or up to a week, depending on the magnitude of the injury and, even more importantly, the location of the harm. Damage on the actuator that was subjected to extremely tiny loads during actuation was instantly repaired.
Larger damages, such as severing the actuator in half, required seven days to mend. Even this severe injury, however, may be entirely repaired without the need for any external stimuli.
Read this: Lamborghini teams up with MIT researchers to create "self-healing" sports car
Applications of these Self-Healing Materials
Both of these materials may be combined, and their mechanical characteristics can be tailored to allow the structure they're a part of to move in different ways.
The researchers also intend to include flexible conductive sensors into the material, which will aid in the detection of damage and provide position input to control systems.
People with impairments have benefited greatly from prosthetics. The latest prostheses, on the other hand, invariably feel mechanical. In the future, self-healing robots may be able to dominate the prosthetics business.
The robotic prosthesis will feel more natural and allow users to carry out their everyday duties with ease because of its smooth, skin-like construction. Furthermore, if the prosthesis is broken while being used, it will self-heal, eliminating the need for maintenance and replacement.
( Must Read: 3D Bioprinting - All you need to know )
Robots have already evolved into our personal assistants, automating the majority of our jobs. Self-healing robots can do the same job as humans, but more efficiently and with lower maintenance expenses. The employment of self-healing robots in the food and beverage sector is one such example.
Self-healing robots can be used to delicately pick up and arrange fragile foods. When operating in close proximity to sharp things, the robot's parts might be harmed. If heat is supplied to damaged components, self-healing robots can autonomously fix themselves.
Researchers have built a robotic hand made of springy polymers that can knit back together when sliced to showcase this notion. All that is required is the application of a small amount of heat to the affected area.
( Explore more on Robotics: Top Robotic Universities In The World )
A Much more Cost-Effective, Safer, and Long-Term Solution
Because the cost of robot repairs and replacements is so high, the development of self-healing technology is not only revolutionary, but it also has the potential to eliminate the need for time-consuming, complex, and costly repairs.
It also has ramifications for sustainability, since robots would need to be replaced less frequently, as they will be able to undertake routine maintenance independently and autonomously.
Self-repair systems in robots also make them less dangerous to humans who may be working with or near them, since their soft, flexible nature makes them unlikely to inflict serious harm. This makes work settings with a growing number of robotic 'employees' significantly safer for human workers and goods.
( Also Read: Confidential Computing in AI Autonomous Vehicles )
Robots traditionally found as automated workers in factories and labs will soon begin to move into more environments, such as agriculture, and into the average household, thanks to the development of soft, safe materials embedded with polymers that can sense and locate damages and trigger the healing process without human intervention.
Users or owners of such robots will be able to forego costly maintenance and instead make use of this safe, long-term solution, putting it at the forefront of the development of a new generation of robotics.
Read this study on Self Healing Materials and their application.
Bottom Line - The Challenges that Self-healing robots confront
The fact that self-healing robots are still in their infancy is a huge problem. Despite the fact that there is a considerable amount of research on the subject, the actual applications of self-healing robots are restricted. Robots have just recently made their way into the real world, and even then, their uses are restricted.
It will take a long time for the technology to become widely available. Furthermore, academics must continue to invest time and money in creating technology in order to make it broadly available.
Furthermore, incorporating current materials into self-healing robots technology is difficult. New innovative materials with effective self-healing characteristics must be studied and developed, or current self-healing materials must be used correctly.
Researchers should also examine the nature of interfaces between materials, especially those that are chemically active if a mix of materials is employed.