The radical vision of the SHERO project is the ambitious development of fully-autonomous self-healing soft robotic devices, by integrating engineered functional materials, smart sensing and active actuation and control capabilities into soft robots. These soft robotic systems will be able to sense and evaluate loss of performance and heal damage due to fatigue, overloading, and injuries by sharp objects present in dynamic environments or by human contact. Such fully integrated self-healing robotic systems – and by extension other devices, machines and structures – are unprecedented in scientific literature. This project will challenge the limits of current state-of-the-art research to fortify the foundations for all three pillars of mechatronic design: actuation, sensing and control, supported by advanced material design. Merged into prototypes and demonstrators, these fundamental principles are further refined in view of a synergistic development of more complex and autonomous robotic systems. The results of the project will reach further than the already broad field of robotics and automation. These concepts can be implemented in both dynamic and static applications and environments. The combination of material systems containing passive and active healing mechanisms with smart sensory capabilities could revolutionize automotive, aerospace and naval industries, on- and offshore energy production, manufacturing and construction sectors, illustrating the overarching impact of this pioneering technology on the development of more reliable and sustainable products, finding applications throughout society.
The breakthrough targeted in the project is the development of complete robotic systems that are able to feel pain (sense microscopic and macroscopic damage), react intelligently to relieve the pain (evaluate performance and prevent catastrophic failure), take the necessary measures to heal the damage and to restore all functions (induce or facilitate a controlled autonomous or non-autonomous healing of damaged elements), perform a rehabilitation (evaluate the quality of the healing process and take measures accordingly), and, finally, return to action. The unique, integrated design of SH capabilities in robotic systems with intelligent control will lead to lighter, more efficient, more reliable and more sustainable designs, as preventive and corrective healing will drastically increase the performance lifetime and reliability of such systems, even under unpredictable conditions. On the long term, the project will provide the fundamental insights and scientific developments to introduce performance evaluation and structural health monitoring, along with active control and intelligence to a much broader range of application domains.
To successfully solve the aforementioned problems and to accomplish the global strategic goal of creating fully-autonomous SH devices with integrated actuation, smart sensing and active control, the following three research objectives (RO) will be pursued during the 3 years of the SHERO project:
- Development, characterization and tuning of stimuli-responsive materials with smart, adaptive properties for self-healing robotic and sensory applications. Development and optimization of manufacturing processes for complex geometries and intelligent design.
- Development of self-healing actuator systems, deformation and damage sensing capabilities and dedicated smart control and response system through artificial intelligence and machine-learning techniques.
- Development of a mechatronic design, construction of a prototype, control and experimental validation of a fully autonomous self-healing demonstrator with dedicated intelligence, focusing on implementation in robotic applications.
Objectives: Existing self-healing material systems need to be synthesized, characterized and adapted to the specific requirements of soft robotics with industrial and commercial applicability and new self-healing material systems need to be developed to meet the stringent requirements of soft robotic actuators. In addition, conductive material and systems need to be developed for sensing purposes. Ultimately, the sensor materials would be capable of damage-healing. As material systems and desired product geometries are becoming more complex (e.g. integration of sensory systems in robotic actuators), traditional processing and manufacturing techniques need to be adapted to the requirements of fully-integrated robotic actuator design.
T1.1 Development of self-healing mechanisms and material systems:
T1.2 Development of self-healing conductive materials for sensory applications :
T1.2.1 Optimization of conductive polymer nanocomposites for sensors
T1.2.2 Development of self-healing conductive polymer nanocomposites
T1.3 Advanced processing and manufacturing techniques:
T1.4 Structure-processing-property characterization:
This work package focuses on developments in the three building blocks of intelligent self-healing robotic systems: (i) actuation, (ii) sensing and (iii) control. The primary goal is to increase the service lifetime of robotic systems, which requires the full recovery of original system’s performance after damage and healing. Developments on the level of actuator design will be performed with close connection to developments on the level of materials and processing (WP1). To achieve a system that is able to work autonomously, two additional systems have to be integrated in the robotic system. Smart sensing of deformation and damage of the actuator is required to monitor its performance and possible loss thereof. To implement functional materials as sensors for proprioception, both for the control and health monitoring of the system, sensor networks will be developed with sufficient resolution to detect upcoming microcracks due to overload and fatigue before fatal failure. The addition of active control and response systems will allow the robotic system to evaluate its performance and take the necessary measures in case of damage, e.g. healing and revalidation. Dedicated control frameworks will be developed for structural health monitoring and autonomous self-healing action by means of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to be used for force-control applications.
T2.1 Development of self-healing actuator systems:
T2.2 Development of self-healing sensors:
T2.2.1 Deformation and damage sensing for autonomous self-healing:
T2.2.2 Self-healing sensors:
T2.3 Smart control and response systems: T2.3.1 Force control:
T2.3.2 Structural health monitoring system:
T2.3.3 Self-healing intelligent process control:
This WP integrates the knowledge to develop integrated modules and demonstration platforms for publications and other forms of dissemination and valorisation activities. To take advantage of material-oriented solutions, we will develop a self-healing robotic soft bionic arm and gripper able to safely work with humans. The fully autonomous SH system will be able to detect damage and heal without any human intervention.
Task 3.1: Development of self-healing sensor-actuator modules:
Task 3.2: Development of demonstration platforms:
Implement and realize the dissemination, communication and exploitation plan
Task 4.1: Implementation of the dissemination strategy:
Task 4.2: Implementation of the communication strategy:
Task 4.3: Implementation of the actions towards exploitation:
Implement and realize the management strategy of SHERO
Task 5.1: Organization of the general management topics:
Task 5.2: Organization of the reporting: