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Dübendorf ZH – Robots that work with fragile objects should in future be made from flexible materials. However, as these materials tear easily, the robots should be able to heal themselves. This is the aim of a multinational research project in which Empa is also participating.

Robots will play a major role in the day-to-day life of human beings in the future, as the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) explained in a press release. They will help with household chores, reduce the workload and make life safer. So that they can handle fragile objects better, next-generation robots are to be made from flexible materials, according to Empa. However, these “soft” robots would be particularly susceptible to cuts and tears from sharp objects.

When tears do arise, the robots should be able to identify the damage and repair themselves. This is the aim of the multinational research project SHERO (Self-HEaling soft RObotics). Researchers from Empa are involved in this project alongside those from the Free University of Brussels-VUB, the University of Cambridge, École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la ville de Paris (ESPCI-Paris) and the Dutch polymer manufacturers SupraPolix.

As part of the research project, Empa will focus on developing new flexible sensors and actuators, which can be embedded into the self-healing polymers. Frank Clemens of the Department of High-Performance Ceramics at Empa in Dübendorf explains: "In a first step, we will embed our elastic, piezoresistive sensor fibers in the self-healing polymer to sense continuously the strain and to detect the region where self-healing process has to be activated. In a later step, other kinds of sensors and actuators will be integrated, depending on the respective final application".

The research project will run for three years and has received a total of 3 million euros in financial backing from the European Union.

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