AI News, Soft, self-healing devices mimic biological muscles

Soft, self-healing devices mimic biological muscles

A central challenge in this field known as 'soft robotics' is a lack of actuators or 'artificial muscles' that can replicate the versatility and performance of the real thing.

These devices, which can be constructed from a wide range of low-cost materials, are able to self-sense their movements and self-heal from electrical damage, representing a major advance in soft robotics.

The newly developed hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic (HASEL) actuators eschew the bulky, rigid pistons and motors of conventional robots for soft structures that react to applied voltage with a wide range of motions.

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.

One iteration of a HASEL device, described in Science (video summary of paper), consists of a donut-shaped elastomer shell filled with an electrically insulating liquid (such as canola oil) and hooked up to a pair of opposing electrodes.

Another HASEL design is made of layers of highly stretchable ionic conductors that sandwich a layer of liquid, and expands and contracts linearly upon activation to either lift a suspended gallon of water or flex a mechanical arm holding a baseball.

In addition to serving as the hydraulic fluid which enables versatile movements, the use of a liquid insulating layer enables HASEL actuators to self-heal from electrical damage.

Other soft actuators controlled by high voltage, also known as dielectric elastomer actuators, use a solid insulating layer that fails catastrophically from electrical damage.

Future research will attempt to further optimize materials, geometry and explore advanced fabrication techniques in order to continue improving the HASEL platform and to rapidly enable practical applications.

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