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Aifoam, A Highly Elastic Polymer To Give Robots A Futuristic Physical Touch Of Human


National University of Singapore (NUS) developed a new type of foam called Aifoam which will allow robots to sense touch just like humans. It is identical to human skin and is a huge advancement for the Artificial Intelligence department.

Aifoam is a soft material almost like a sponge and it can sense objects without touching them and can even repair itself. It is a laboratory-made, highly elastic polymer. It’s the first time such a highly advanced product has been made which will make the robots more aware of their surroundings and more intelligent.

Aifoam is made by mixing a Teflon-like substance which is commonly called a fluoropolymer with a surfactant that lowers surface tension. Teflon is a synthetic resin and is used to coat non-stick utensils as they are fluoropolymers they have high resistance towards solvents, acids, and bases. Due to such properties, it allows the foam to fuse with other pieces thus helping in sensing them and repairing them.

This type of material is quite versatile and thus has various applications. According to researchers it can be used in robotics and prosthetic devices – artificial body parts like heart, limb, breast, etc and places where robots are working with humans so that their thinking patterns can match.

This Aifoam was developed over a span of two years by a team led by Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee from the NUS Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and the Institute for Health Innovation & Technology (iHealthtech). 

Tee also said it was important to develop such material as it will open up new developments and bring machines and humans much closer to each other where both can understand each other.

This replication of human touch was made possible by researchers by infusing tiny metal materials which were only visible through a microscope and adding very tiny electrodes under the foam. Whenever pressure is felt outside the foam the tiny metal particles get drawn towards the pressure in the polymer grid and these metal particles change their electrical properties inside this polymer grid. The tiny electrodes can sense these changes and understand that an object is present. These electrodes are connected to a computer that gives instructions to the robot and the robot acts accordingly.

This whole model works on the principle of changing the electrical field. The sensors sense the change in the electric field outside the foam in this sense the presence of an object or person. This principle helps understand the direction of the electrical field thus knowing where the pressure force is applied making them more interactive just like humans.

Tee is very proud of this team as they are the very first ones to combine three different spheres- self-healing properties, proximity, and pressure sensing.

They look forward to using the material within the next five years after spending two years behind the development of the material.

This will also benefit those people who have prosthetics installed into their body making it easier to grab objects and do daily tasks. It is a great advancement benefiting a number of people.

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