Hmm, where have we seen this before? Stanford University scientists have created a multi-layered, self-healing electronic skin for robots and prosthetics that has a sense of touch and can realign itself autonomously when cut.
The research team created the synthetic skin using thin layers of rubber, latex (natural polymers), and other polymers including PPG (polypropylene glycol) and PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane, also known as silicone). These layered polymers were chosen because they have rubber-like electrical and mechanical properties, biocompatibility, and can be mixed with nano or microparticles to enable electric conductivity and hydrogen bonding can be used to turn them into a durable, multilayer material that resembles human skin.
Heating of the synthetic skin and the viscosity and elastic responses of the materials it’s made from means it’s able to heal and re-align itself in about 24 hours. As it ‘heals’ the synthetic skin can re-align and re-assemble itself due to the addition of magnetic materials to its polymer layers.
The Stanford scientists also reported that the current prototype of the skin was engineered to sense pressure, and in future versions, additional layers engineered to sense changes in temperature or strain could be included.
One of the research team’s envisioned uses for the synthetic skin includes a skin that can be used to wrap robots and prosthetics, giving them self-healing properties and a human-like sense of touch.
Swallowing Mini Surgeon Robots
One other exciting future usage of this material envisioned by the team is robots that could be swallowed in pieces and then self-assembled inside the body to perform non-invasive medical treatments!
One of the co-authors of the study, Chris Cooper PhD says: “We’ve achieved what we believe to be the first demonstration of a multi-layer, thin film sensor that automatically realigns during healing. This is a critical step toward mimicking human skin, which has multiple layers that all re-assemble correctly during the healing process”.
Another co-author of the study Sam Root (postdoctoral researcher), says of the synthetic skin, “It is soft and stretchable. But if you puncture it, slice it, or cut it— each layer will selectively heal with itself to restore the overall function,” Root describes it as “Just like real skin.”
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
This new multi-layered approach using dynamic polymers could be a major step forward that could give robots and prosthetics a layer of skin that can not only ‘feel’ sensations but can (quickly) heal and re-align itself when damaged, just like human skin. This is the stuff of science fiction and although it is still early days, this technology could create some amazing opportunities in the world of robots and for patients in medicine. The research team also envision using the materials to create self-assembling surgeon robots that could be swallowed and carry out minor procedures inside the body which could save costs, reduce waiting lists, and mean faster healing times for patients. The combination of robotics, AI, and this new skin technology could create a range of new robots and prosthetics that are more human-like and more useful than ever taking us one step further to a future that has until now, seemed a long way off.