With 3D printer
Swiss researchers produce self-healing robotic skin
Swiss researchers have used a 3D printer to print a skin for a robot that can mend itself if damaged. The process is presented in a recently published study in the renowned journal “Nature Materials”.
Researchers at ETH Zurich have printed the skin for a robot’s gripping arm.
Living materials such as animal bones or plant stems are capable of self-healing, regenerating, adapting to the environment, and even making certain choices. The scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) wanted to take advantage of this property, they wrote in the study.
To do this, they used a 3D printer to print a three-dimensional lattice from a hydrogel loaded with the fungus Ganoderma lucidum. Similar to mold on food, the so-called mushroom mycelium, i.e. the root network of the mushrooms, populated this printed grid.
In around 20 days, this resulted in a skin that is robust on the one hand and has the ability to regenerate itself on the other. If you cut it, it grows back together. The skin owes its ability to heal itself to the metabolic activity of the mycelial cells. These have evolved in nature in such a way that they can navigate through and grow in the openings of porous structures.
In order for the skin to be able to grow again after damage, it must not lose this metabolic activity. And for that she needs nutrients. According to the study, further research needs to be done on exactly how this fungal skin can be fed. In addition, it is still unclear how waste materials can be discharged over long periods of time.
To test the process, the researchers at ETH printed a robot skin and used it to carry out several tests. They let the robot with the printed skin roll over different surfaces and dive into the water. The printed mushroom skin easily passed all of these tests. In the future, this technology should “bring life into the world of materials,” wrote the authors of the study.