Artificially innervated foam (AiFoam) was designed using high-elasticity polymer infused with metal particles and tiny electrodes, giving it the ability to self-heal and a sense of touch. (Image credit: National University of Singapore via YouTube)
While robots are getting smarter through AI, they cannot feel and touch objects like humans, which can be detrimental to humans' work environment. Scientists from the National University of Singapore have developed an intelligent foam capable of self-healing and sense objects similar to human skin. Those scientists’ breakthroughs could give those robots more than a sense of touch with the added ability to sense objects around them without needing to touch them.
Known as artificially innervated foam (AiFoam), the new material is soft like a sponge and can perform those abilities mentioned earlier, all at the same time. “We want to show that it is possible to replicate the human sense of touch in a robot, which opens up a new paradigm in the interaction between man and machine for future applications,” states Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee. A robot outfitted with an AiFoam skin could theoretically manipulate rigid and soft objects alike without damaging them.
The scientists developed AiFoam using elastic polymer created by mixing a Teflon-like substance (known as a fluoropolymer) with a surfactant that lowers surface tension. The result is a material that, when separated into pieces, fuses effortlessly back into one piece. The scientists then infused the material with microscopic metal particles that enable the foam to sense the presence of a capacitive object, such as a human finger. Embedded electrodes housed underneath the surface of the foam provide object detection and the direction of the object based on the amount of force of the interaction. The scientists are currently looking to robotics and prosthetics manufacturers about utilizing AiFoam and incorporating it into other applications.
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