There has been a handful of truly wild advancements in the robotics field lately. These advancements don’t involve the typical rigid robots, made out of hard materials, doing backflips or making pizza’s.
These advancements are bit stranger… They are inspired by human flesh, muscles, and skin. Inspired by how humans move, dynamic and fluid. These advancements may lead to the androids similar to the ones found in HBO’s Westworld or the Film Ex Machina.
Will we ever see androids anywhere near the kind seen in West World or Ex Machina in our lifetimes? It’s hard to imagine at this point, but these four incredible advances are steps in the right direction.
Alright, the first advancement takes us to the University of Colorado Boulder where researchers are pushing the boundaries of soft robotics. Soft Robotics is subfield of robotics that is built on how living organisms move and interact with their environment, and deals with compliant materials vs rigid materials.
The researchers at Boulder developed the Hydraulically Amplified Self-Healing Electrostatic Actuator, or HASEL Actuator for short. The HASEL actuator is a new class of soft, electrically activated devices that mimic the movement of natural muscles.
The HASEL actuator meets or exceeds the strength, speed and efficiency of biological muscles. The actuators are made of elastic pouches connected to electrode and filled with vegetable oil. The oil is an electrically insulating liquid and when electricity is applied, the oil is displaced, making the artificial muscle contract, and this can happen in milliseconds, and changing the shape and configuration of the pouches will produce different movements.
Assistant Professor and fellow of the Material Science and Engineering Program Christoph Keplinger says: “HASEL actuators synergize the strengths of soft fluidic and soft electrostatic actuators, and thus combine versatility and performance like no other artificial muscle before. 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.” – END QUOTE
And what might be the most incredible part of this advancement, is that the devices are made out of low cost material and can be made for just 10 cents!
The researchers are continuing to improve the technology, the actuators currently take a lot of power but they are working on devices that will operate on one fifth of the power. And they have secured patents for the technology and currently exploring commercial opportunities. Who wants to see Boston Dynamics or Handson Robotics license this tech? I sure do!
The next advancement makes me think of the T1000 or Wolverine. Researchers at a Belgian University have developed technology that may one day allow robots to have self-healing skin! The fingers you see are made out of squishy polymers with lots of strands. The strands of microscopic chains that are held together. The fascinate part is that the bonds break when you heat the material, and as it cools the chains bond back together.
The team of researchers are now working on a way to load the material with sensors so that eventually when the technology is applied to a robot, it can sense when it has an injury and heal itself accordingly. Currently it takes about 40 minutes to heal a wound at 80 degrees centigrade, but that should improve over time.
Alright and the third advancement also involves possible robot skin. But this research was inspired by Octopus Skin! An Octopus can do so much without a skeleton and it’s skin and change shape and color in absolutely incredible ways. Let me just show you. Look at the how it perfectly blends with that ocean plant!
Anyway, researchers at Cornell University in New York and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts created synthetic skin that can change shape and texture.