In Brief

‘Squid teeth’ could be used by US army for ‘self-repairing’ robots

Military scientists hope cephalopods could also be the secret to building ‘self-fixing’ uniforms

Scientists working with the US military believe that the natural healing qualities of so-called “squid teeth” could be used to develop self-fixing clothing and robots.

The suckers at the end of a squid’s tentacles allow the creature to hold fish and shrimp, but also “have an inbuilt repair system that allows them to regenerate when broken”, The Times reports.

That system is “now at the centre of a project funded by the US Army Research Institute to develop self-repairing materials”, the paper adds.

Researchers at Penn State University “have developed soft robotic components from a polymer that both self-heals and is biodegradable”, The i says. 

As well as making self-repairing clothing, “robotic machines… ventilators, personal protective equipment and prosthetic legs could be manufactured using the polymer”, allowing them to self-heal damage stemming from constant use, the paper says.

Abdon Pena-Francesch, who worked on the research at the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart, said: “We were able to reduce a typical 24-hour healing period to one second, so our protein-based soft robots can now repair themselves immediately.

“In nature, self-healing takes a long time. In this sense, our technology outsmarts nature.” 

The findings were published in Nature Materials and could see “prototyping [of self-repairing materials] in five to eight years” and military application in “10 to 15 years”, Stephanie McElhinny, a biochemistry programme manager at the US Army Research Office, told the Army Times.

“With a self-healing bio-based synthetic material, any sites of damage that emerge can be repaired, extending the lifetime of the system or device,” McElhinny said.

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