Swiss researchers print self-healing skin for robot

Swiss researchers have used a 3D printer to print a skin for a robot that can mend itself after being damaged.

robot hand touching human hand

Living materials such as animal bones or plant stems are able to heal themselves, regenerate, adapt to the environment and even make certain decisions. Scientists at ETH Zurich wanted to take advantage of this property, as a study in the renowned journal Nature Materials shows,

To do this, they used a 3D printer to print a three-dimensional grid from a hydrogel loaded with the fungus Ganoderma lucidum. Similar to moulds on food, the so-called fungal mycelia, i.e. the root network of the fungi, colonised this printed grid.

In about 20 days, a skin developed from this, which 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 to navigate and grow through the openings of porous structures.

Skin must be fed

In order for the skin to grow again when damaged, however, it must not lose this metabolic activity. And for this it needs nutrients. According to the study, further research is needed to find out exactly how this fungal skin can be fed. In addition, it is still open how waste products can be removed over long periods of time.

To test the method, the researchers printed a robot skin and conducted several tests with it. They had the robot with the printed skin roll over various surfaces and immerse it in water. The printed fungal skin passed all these tests without any problems. In the future, this technology should "bring life to the world of materials", the authors of the study wrote.

Written by: sda

Photos: Pixabay/Pete Linforth

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