Remember how in Terminator 2, whenever the T-1000 got shot, sliced, or burned, he was able to quickly heal himself? That was back in 1991–what’s taken so long to get there? When will our stuff–robots or otherwise–be able to heal themselves?
Very soon, according to researchers at Arizona State University. In their recent paper, “Autonomous Materials with Controlled Toughening and Healing,” they describe a material that mimics the natural healing processes found in bone.
How does it work? To heal something, you have to be able both to detect that it has been broken, and then you have to fix it. The researchers, led by Henry Sodano, used something called “shape-memory” polymers with an embedded fiber-optic network. The fiber-optic network both detects damage to the material and delivers heat to help toughen the material once strained or cracked.
Once the fiber-optic system kicks in to toughen the material, and the shape-memory mechanism kicks in to close a crack, the broken material returns to 96% of what the paper’s authors call its “virgin strength.”