POKE A HOLE in a human and something remarkable happens. First of all, you go to jail. But meanwhile, the wound heals itself, filling in the missing tissue and protecting itself from infection. Poke a hole in a robot, however, and prepare for a long night of repairs. The machines may be stronger than us, but they’re missing out on a vital superpower.
Until now. Researchers at Belgium’s Vrije Universiteit Brussel report this week in Science Robotics that they’ve developed a squishy, self-healing robot. Cut it open, apply heat, let it cool down again, and the wound heals itself. While self-healing materials are nothing new, their application in so-called soft robotics—a relatively new kind of pliable machine that uses pneumatics or hydraulics to move—could be big. Think Terminator-style robots that automatically heal bullet wounds.