Future humanoid robots may end up using University of Texas creation to self-heal
As cool as the Lost in Space robot was at the time the show aired in the '60s, nowadays we think of robots as being a little more high-tech.
Or even human-like. Think "Data," the android from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
He's got artificial skin that looks fairly human.
Thanks to work being done by the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT, in the distant future when something like Data exists, he'll be able to heal himself when he scrapes his knee.
UT's Dr. Guihua Yu is the brain behind the newly developed self-healing gel that doesn't need light or heat to work on its own.
"Our gel is so special you don't need any external stimulus. So you can regain it's function after its damage," Yu said.
Dr. Yu says the initial implications are to improve energy storage.
For instance, the Tesla Powerwall. When it hits the market, it will end up powering entire homes. Dr. Yu says battery electrodes can swell during cycling. The gel can fix that...on its own of course.
"So if Tesla is going to adopt these next generation materials they can make the batteries much more efficient, and much more cost effective. I think this is where our gel will play a critical role," Yu said.
Dr. Yu says there are plenty more applications for the gel though: electronics, bio-sensors, the medical field and robotics. For instance non-humanoid robots like a Mars rover.
"You cannot send a human to induce their self-healing properties so our special gel is the right materials," Yu said.
A couple of floors away from Dr. Yu is "Dreamer."
Dreamer is a humanoid robot funded by NASA. She's already pretty smart. She can even do 'hook em horns.'
Dr. Luis Sentis says someday materials like Dr. Yu's gel could help out future versions of Dreamer if they get hurt.
"I could see the robot self-attaching the limb mechanically and then the super-gel taking control of all of the conductors inside and rewiring them automatically without any intervention from a human," Sentis said.
Dreamer doesn't have artificial skin like Commander Data but someday when it's common for robots to have skin, Dr. Sentis and Dr. Yu say the technology behind the self-healing gel will be a game-changer.
"If you can design these materials with different chemical bondings, so you can control the process of the self-healing...you can control how fast they can self-heal. So it can be like a range from a few seconds to a few days," Yu said.
"This skin is going to allow these humanoids to become super humans in a way...because they're going to heal right away in the same way that we heal after an injury. But we do it in weeks, these guys are going to do it in minutes," Sentis said.