In a quest to advance the creation of soft robots, a team of researchers created a self-healing artificial muscle that doesn't break the bank. It is said to be as strong as an elephant, as fast as a hummingbird, and as adaptable as an octopus arm.
In the past, most robot designs are made of hard, rigid materials. In recent years, however, researchers have turned more and more to soft materials in order to create more flexible and possibly even human-like artificial materials and artificial organs.
A team of researchers have created a soft artificial muscle that can perform various tasks such as grasping delicate materials and even carrying heavy loads. Called hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic or HASEL and inspired by biological muscle, the material is made up of donut-shaped shells, which are filled up with electrically insulated liquid. It can be controlled with just two wires and can change in shape once the electricity flows through. The material grips when charged with electricity and releases when electricity is turned off.
Another iteration of the liquid-based design is made up of stretchable ionic conductors with a layer of liquid in between. This rubbery material can expand and contract when charged with electricity and is strong enough to carry a gallon of water or flex a robotic arm.
A similar design by the team but is published in a separate journal places three pouches together, which contract when applied with electricity just like a biological muscle but can operate much faster than the human muscle. This design is tagged as the Peano-HASEL.
Amazingly, because of the liquid-based design of the HASEL and the Peano-HASEL, the material can self-heal from electrical damage.
Practical Uses Of The HASEL
Although the HASEL was created for soft robotics, it could have different uses even today, especially since it is said to be as cheap as 10 cents. In the future, it could allow for the creation of more human-like robots, but today, the material may be used in more practical uses in food packaging and handling.
What's more, it can be helpful in the medical field, particularly in the creation of prosthetics for amputees and artificial organs for training doctors and other possible future medical treatments.
"The materials are low-cost, scalable and compatible with current industrial manufacturing techniques," said Nicholas Kellaris, lead author of the Science Robotics paper.
The papers on HASEL and Peano-HASEL are published in Science and Science Robotics.