Smart foam, with the ability to perform these functions, can potentially make robots more intelligent and interactive, as well as improve robotic motion, according to researchers at the National University of Singapore.
While robots are getting smarter with the advancement in technology, they cannot still touch and feel their surroundings like human beings. A new material invented by researchers dubbed artificially innervated foam, or AiFoam, enables robots to mimic the human sense of touch, sense nearby objects without actually touching, and repair when damaged.
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The researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have detailed their work in an article titled ‘Artificially innervated self-healing foams as synthetic piezo-impedance sensor skins,’ published in the journal Nature Communications.
Smart foam, with the ability to perform these functions, can potentially make robots more intelligent and interactive, as well as improve robotic motion, according to the researchers.
“We want to show that it is possible to replicate the human sense of touch in a robot, which opens up a new paradigm in the interaction between man and machine for future applications,” Benjamin Tee, Assistant Professor at NUS, said in a statement.
AiFoam is created by mixing fluoropolymer with a substance that lowers surface tension. The material is then infused with microscopic metal particles which enables the foam to sense the presence of a human finger.
Additionally, to mimic the sensitive nerve endings in the human skin, the researchers embedded fine cylinder-shaped electrodes underneath the surface of the foam that can detect the direction of the applied force, the university explained, and added, “Its [AiFoam] unique formulation enables it to more efficiently detect human presence, unlike other proximity sensors that typically make use of light and reflections.”
According to the researchers, AiFoam can be stretched to more than twice its length and the surface-active agent enables it to self-heal even after being cut. They tested the foam’s ability to self-repair by heating it over four days, after which the material healed about 70%, and could still be stretched to almost twice its length.
“The self-healing properties of AiFoam, as well as its sensitivity to a contact force, will enable robots to better judge human intention, and build a future generation of robots that will react to environmental changes quickly and more efficiently,” Tee noted.
The research team is exploring partnerships with robotics companies, as well as looking to expand the use of AiFoam to areas like robotics and prosthetics, to enable more seamless interactions between humans and machines, NUS stated.