Fully-autonomous self-healing soft robotic devices thanks to the interdisciplinary combination between self-healing polymer science and soft robotics
The field of robotics is accelerating at an increasingly rapid rate and is showing no signs of slowing down. However, there remain some significant robotics challenges, especially the need for new materials with tunable properties, new fabrication strategies to embody these functional materials and new capabilities for future robots, including the robot building and repairing itself.
SHERO, a pan-European research project funded by the EU that comprises universities, knowledge institute and SME, has the ambition to tackle these challenges by the development of fully-autonomous self-healing soft robotic devices that integrate self-healing materials, smart sensing and active actuation and control capabilities into one device.
These soft robotic systems will be able to sense and evaluate loss of performance and heal damage due to fatigue, overloading, and injuries by sharp objects present in dynamic environments or resulting from human contact. Such fully integrated self-healing robotic systems – and their possible extension to other devices, machines and structures – are unprecedented in our daily lives. Therefore, the SHERO-team recently published in Materials Today the driving forces and limitations to spur the interdisciplinary combination between self-healing polymer science and soft robotics.
SHERO’s integrated approach is aiming at lighter, more efficient, more reliable and more sustainable robotic designs, as preventive and corrective healing will drastically increase their performance lifetimes and reliability, even under unpredictable conditions. Moreover, applications are also foreseen in automotive, aerospace and naval industries, in on- and offshore energy production and in manufacturing and construction sectors, all benefiting from more reliable and sustainable products thereby eminently targeting the need for a circular economy in Europe.
Clearly, self-healing soft robots can deliver a Green Deal in Europe’s ‘Circular Electronics Initiative’, an initiative promoting longer product lifetimes through reusability and reparability as well as “upgradeability” of components and software to avoid premature obsolescence.
FET-Open and FET Proactive are now part of the Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) Pilot (specifically the Pathfinder), the new home for deep-tech research and innovation in Horizon 2020, the EU funding programme for research and innovation