Leverkusen, Germany - Bayer MaterialScience AG has developed a new wrinkle-free polyurethane skin for use in robotics, and has established a global robotics working group to meet the demand for partner and service robots.
In a 26 May statement, Bayer quoted statistics from the International Federation of Robotics which indicate that the number of robots in private households will have increased from two million in 2004 to nine million by the end of 2008.
"Our work in the field of robotics focuses primarily on high-tech functionalised polymer materials. These materials offer outstanding development potential for new material solutions that open up completely new opportunities and dimensions in the design and construction of robots," explained Dr Andrea Maier-Richter, a specialist in the new business section of Bayer.
Bayer reported that one of its projects in the robotics industry will be the Care-O-bot, a service robot designed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation in IPA in Stuttgart, Germany, and developed by SCHUNK GmbH & Co. KG, based in Lauffen am Neckar, Germany. The robot will complete simple transport tasks in the home.
To cover external moving parts of the robot, Bayer has developed a polyurethane-based elastic skin that is designed to be similar to human skin. In order to achieve the wrinkle-free effect needed a new combination of materials has been developed, for which Bayer has lodged a patent application.
The new combination consists of flexible polyurethane foam coated with a PU dispersion frothed foam, which forms the continuous outer skin. Bayer said that, although extremely flexible, this composite material is also very strong and resistant to cleaning agents and everyday chemicals. The new material can be customised in terms of thickness, density, surface texture and colour.
"There are numerous potential applications for intelligent functionalised polymer materials in robotics," according to BMS, for example, carbon nanotubes can be used to improve the stiffness and strength of thermoplastics and polyurethane systems, which can be made into housing sections and heavy-duty micromechanical components.
Maier-Richter concluded, "We have acquired extensive know-how about the requirements and needs of robot manufacturers and developers. This in turn has enabled us to derive a number of approaches to how our plastics should function."