As smart as robots and machines are becoming, the sense of touch and the ability to feel complexities in the machine’s surroundings is still reserved for humans. But a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have now invented a “smart foam” that can give machines more than a human touch.
Called artificially innervated foam, or AiFoam, the new material, which is soft and feels like a sponge, mimics the human sense of touch, can sense nearby objects without actually touching, and repairs itself when damaged.
According to a report from the university, compared with other conventional materials, AiFoam is the first smart foam that performs these functions simultaneously, potentially making robots more intelligent and interactive.
The surfactant within the foam enables it to self-heal even after being cut, making it ideal for use in applications like prosthetics. The foam can be stretched to more than twice its length without breaking. To heal cuts, the researchers heated it to 70 degree Celsius over four days.
The breakthrough material was developed over two years by a team led by Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee, who said, “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.”
The NUS team is exploring partnerships with robotics companies, as well as looking to expand the use of AiFoam to areas like robotics and prosthetics, to enable more seamless interactions between humans and machines.