Self-Healing Material Smacks Of Sci-Fi Robotics Skin

( – A breakthrough self-healing artificial material could be the key to robots that self-repair in the future. The possibility is so intriguing that some outlets are suggesting killer robots like those featured in the Terminator movie franchise are a possibility in the not-too-distant future.

Stanford researchers have created a new material from polypropylene glycol and silicone which has unique magnetic properties allowing it to reform itself when cut into pieces and heated up to 158 degrees Fahrenheit. The material rehardens as it cools back to room temperature, sealing pieces together or healing cuts in a flat plane. The process takes about twenty-four hours.

The possibility for soft robots that can alter their physical parameters on demand offers interesting potential for commercial, industrial, and weapons applications. Chris Cooper is a PhD candidate who worked on developing the material, he called it a “multi-layer thin film sensor” with the ability to heal. He added that it’s an important first step in developing artificial skin that mimics human skin in that it can sense pressure, temperature, electrical, and mechanical changes.

The molecular backbone of the material is comprised of a long chain of hydrogen bonds which allows the material the flexibility to stretch and bend without tearing or ripping. The researchers chose the ingredients for the material based on their ability to flex when used in other materials, like latex.

The main goal was to design a material that could self-heal without external aid, the addition of magnetic substrates to the material is what allowed it to self-assemble. Professor Renee Zhao said the combination of magnetic reassembly and induction heating could allow technological healing in the field. A robot or drone that could self-assemble after being destroyed to be used again could prove incredibly valuable on the battlefield.

The researchers demonstrated the feat with a short video that showed pieces of the material dancing together in a heated water bath. Are we creating our own robotic overlords? Thankfully this technology is still in its infancy and it would be decades before it could be applied to mechanized weaponry.

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