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New self-healing skin could lead to advanced robotics

A team of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder have created an electronic skin that can heal itself over time, according to new research in Science Advances

The new technology is a thin film equipped with a series of advanced sensors that help it detect and interact with the environment. Not only can it detect pressure, but it has the ability to measure temperature, humidity, and air flow as well. In that way, it acts like human skin.

To develop the material, researchers used a covalently bonded dynamic network polymer known as polyimine. They laced the substance with silver nanoparticles that allow it to heal itself when cut or damaged. It does that by recreating chemical bonds between the two split pieces, giving them a way to comeback together.

Another benefit of the material is that it is easily recyclable. If it becomes damaged beyond repair, scientists can simply soak it in a special solution that breaks it down for future use.

“To recycle the skin, the device is soaked into recycling solution, making the polymers degrade into oligomers, polymers with polymerization degree usually below 10, and monomers, small molecules that can be joined together into polymers, both of which are soluble in ethanol,” said study co-author Xiao Jianliang, assistant professor from University of Colorado Boulder, according to Perfscience. “The silver nanoparticles sink to the bottom of the solution.

The new skin is a great advancement in electronic organs, but its biggest application could be robotics. There is still a lot of undiscovered territory in the field, and being able to create skin that is sensitive to touch could help create much more gentle and subtle machines.

“Let’s say you wanted a robot to take care of a baby,” explained study co-author Wei Zhang, a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “In that case you would integrate e-skin on the robot fingers that can feel the pressure of the baby. The idea is to try and mimic biological skin with e-skin that has desired functions.”

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