New metallic material could revolutionise robotics field

  • Singapore
  • Wednesday, 27 Nov 2019

SINGAPORE: A National University of Singapore (NUS) team has developed a new metallic material lighter than paper and plastic, but electrically conductive, allowing for more flexible robots to be created.

The material could boost cutting-edge research around the world on lightweight robots, which have been likened to “origami” robots because they are made of thin sheets and have the ability to twist and fold to adapt to their environment.

Such state-of-the-art robots are used in areas where their flexible nature gives them an advantage over more rigid conventional counterparts, such as search and rescue missions and in administering injections.

Team leader Assistant Prof Chen Po-yen, who is from the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering, said balancing weight with functionality is a familiar headache for people in the robotics field.

While additional electrical components are often required to make a robot capable of performing a specific task, they make the robot heavier, which in turn requires more power to move.

But the power has to come from a larger and heavier battery, creating a vicious circle of ever-increasing weight and demand for power, he said.

“That is why researchers like us are always looking to break this cycle by making lighter robots which will then require less energy and small power sources,” added Prof Chen.

The new material, which has not been named, is made by combining platinum with ash.

Because it is electrically conductive, robots can communicate wirelessly with operators or other robots without the need for additional sensors that weigh down the robot.

Not only can soft robotic limbs communicate information in real-time without the need for external sensors, but the robots could also be up to 60% lighter than their conventional counterparts.

Earlier this year, researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a robotic limb that uses a soft origami gripper to pick up a variety of objects. — The Straits Times/ANN

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