Soft, self-healing robots mimicking human muscles coming soon

New York, Jan 5  Scientists are developing next generation of robots made from soft materials that are more similar to human systems, and are adept at mimicking the expansion and contraction of natural muscles, self-sense their movements as well as self-heal from electrical damage.

Such soft robots contain tremendous potential for future applications as they adapt to dynamic environments and are well-suited to closely interact with humans, said the researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The robots named as hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic (HASEL) actuators eschew the bulky, rigid pistons and motors of conventional robots with soft and electrically activated structures.

With the help of hydraulic fluid which enables versatile movements, the soft devices can perform a variety of tasks, including grasping delicate objects such as a raspberry and a raw egg, as well as lifting heavy objects.

HASEL actuators exceed or match the strength, speed and efficiency of biological muscle and their versatility may enable artificial muscles for human-like robots and a next generation of prosthetic limbs.

“We draw our inspiration from the astonishing capabilities of biological muscle,” said Christoph Keplinger, Assistant Professor at the varsity.

“Just like biological muscle, HASEL actuators can reproduce the adaptability of an octopus arm, the speed of a hummingbird and the strength of an elephant,” Keplinger added, in the paper appearing in the journal Science and Science Robotics.

In addition, the robots feature liquid insulating layer, which enables HASEL actuators to self-heal from electrical damage.

“The ability to create electrically powered soft actuators that lift a gallon of water at several times per second is something we haven’t seen before. These demonstrations show the exciting potential for HASEL,” noted Eric Acome, a doctoral student at the varsity.