Imagine: You and your robot buddy lie wounded by a drone attack on a future battlefield. The blast leaves you bloodied, and your droid jigging with broken connections.
Super soldier metabolism speeds your natural healing, but can the robot regain function? After all, you’ve got a few million years of perfected biology on your side. To your great relief, the robot’s shuttering ceases and he comes back online.
Back to present, researchers have advanced an important step toward self repairing machines, successfully using synthetic nanomotors to restore broken electronic connections. Swarms of tiny gold/platinum ‘Janus’ particles cluster to then patch cracks, completing interrupted circuits.
The spherical Janus nano particles are made of two distinct parts, each with its own specific chemistry. One side of the sphere catalytically reacts with peroxide in the environment to propel the particle, which then situates itself in surface defects, say on a cracked electrode. If you’ve ever had a lithium phone battery slowly die, you’ve experienced one problem the nanomotors can solve.
The design is inspired by human healing – self governing repair with its own motive force – and makes possible wearable, ultra thin electronics able to survive extreme conditions and abuse. The discovery isn’t limited to healing electronics, with applications also possible in a wide range of damaged matter.
Futuristic, ultra thin wearables capable of withstanding wash and wear are one target. Clothing embedded with light weight electronics will replace or augment capabilities of hand held devices. In combination with new carbon based computing and storage systems, a picture of next generation gadgets hidden in the cloth of a jacket, for instance, comes into focus.
This isn’t the only recent self healing material breakthrough. Improved iterations of hybrid gels also show great promise. Though previous gel versions needed outside impetus to function, recent advances now show that gels too can spontaneously act to repair damaged energy devices and the wearable electronics they power. As in human tissue repair, a combination of restorative mechanisms will act to fix coming robots. Who knows, maybe a machine version of ‘kissing the boo-boo to make it all better is next.
See more: University of Illinois Urbana