SHERO: a European consortium to develop soft robots


Future of robotics will undoubtedly involve the development of new models: "soft" robots capable of deforming themselves to perform complex tasks. What is the interest? Handling objects without damaging the objects that the robot interact with (e.g.? food!).
To achieve this, the SHERO consortium brings together various European experts: specialists of robotics and materials from Brussels, of AI from Cambridge, of materials and ceramics for sensors from Zurich, and finally specialists of materials that will constitute the touching organs of those robots from the ESPCI Paris -PSL.

Brubotics, VUB Bruxelles

"It’s a first for us to be involved in a project that brings together such different players", says François Tournilhac, a CNRS research director in the C3M laboratory at the ESPCI.
The team is associated with the project thanks to its expertise in self-healing materials for over 20 years. "We know how to make self-healing materials," confirms Tournilhac, but “the challenge lies in optimizing the performance and integration of these materials into future robots”. [2]

Indeed, a soft material is synonym to increased material’s vulnerability. The material must therefore be able to repair itself, but also to do it quickly to remain functional during use.
Moreover, the robot has to integrate a multitude of sensors, adapted to the soft materials that make it up, such as conductive elastomeric fibres that will follow the deformations of the main material.

C3M rapidly turned to a novel solution, using natural rubber particularly studied by the team of Sophie Norvez, a lecturer at the school. Indeed, this material offers rapid elastic response at room temperature, and thus makes it possible to solve the problems of rapid cycling while being completely bio-sourced. The team is also working on the optimization of the manufacturing process of the artificial "fingers", using for example, natural enzymes to catalyse the reaction. [3]

The materials we are developing must of course be self-healing, but should also show good mechanical performances, such as fast elastic return even in the cold, resistance to fracture, among others", adds François Tournilhac.

The next crucial step is to test these materials in real conditions with the robotics teams in Brussels. The project initiated in 2019 has been extended, and should lead to various functional prototypes.

Shero members

VUB Brubotics Bruxelles
University of Cambridge
EMPA Zurich
ESPCI Paris - PSL (C3M Lab)


[1A review on self-healing polymers for soft robotics
S. Terryn, J. Langenbach, E. Roels, J. Brancart, C. Bakkali-Hassani, Q.-A. Poutrel, A. Georgopoulou, T. G. Thuruthel, A. Safaei, P. Ferrentino, T. Sebastian, S. Norvez, F. Iida, A.W. Bosman, F. Tournilhac, F. Clemens, G. Van Assche, B. Vanderborght
Materials Today 2021, 47, 187-205, DOI:10.1016/j.mattod.2021.01.009

[2Processing of Self-healing Polymers for Soft Robotics
E. Roels, S. Terryn, F. Iida, A.W. Bosman, S. Norvez, F. Clemens, G. Van Assche, B. Vanderborght, J. Brancart
Advanced Materials 2021, asap, DOI:10.1002/adma.202104798

[3Lipase-Catalyzed EpoxyAcid Addition and Transesterification: from Model Molecule Studies to Network Build-Up]}}
C. Bakkali-Hassani, Q.-A. Poutrel, J. Langenbach, S. Chappuis, J.J. Blaker, M. Gresil, F. Tournilhac
Biomacromolecules 2021, asap, DOI:10.1021/acs.biomac.1c00820