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Self-healing, conductive gel could redefine soft robotics

Industry News | July 1, 2023 | By:

An external strip of the gel connects the battery to the motor on this soft robotic snail. Photo: Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering

A new material could help produce self-healing, conductive robotic devices that are also soft. Developed by a team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, the substance consists of a gelatinous polyvinyl alcohol-sodium borate base, in which are embedded silver microflakes and gallium-based liquid metal droplets. It’s also infused with ethylene glycol to keep it from drying out. Not only is the material fully capable of conducting a robust electrical current, but it can be stretched up to 400% of its relaxed length without breaking. Additionally, if a piece of the material is sliced in two, it can both mechanically and electrically heal itself back into one piece.

In one of its tests, small pieces of the material were used in place of traditional rigid electrodes to obtain electromyography (EMG) readings from different locations on a volunteer’s body. 

“Instead of being wired up with biomonitoring electrodes connecting you to bio-measurement hardware mounted on a cart, our gel can be used as a bioelectrode that directly interfaces with body-mounted electronics that can collect information and transmit it wirelessly,” says the lead scientist, professor Carmel Majidi. 

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