An innovative project to develop better sensors for use in robotic systems could improve the design of prosthetics and robotic limbs.
The goal of the research project is to create sensors that give robots enhanced capabilities by using precise pressure sensors that provide haptic feedback.
The project is led by the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), Integrated Graphene Ltd., and is funded by the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering (SRPe) and the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland (NMIS) Industry Doctorate Program in Advanced Manufacturing.
Over recent years the advancements in the robotics industry have been remarkable, however, due to a lack of sensory capabilities, robotic systems often fail to execute certain tasks easily. For robots to reach their full potential, accurate pressure sensors, capable of providing greater tactile ability, are required.
Des Gibson, Project Principal Investigator and Director, Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging, University of the West of Scotland
Gibson added, “Our collaboration with Integrated Graphene Ltd, has led to the development of advanced pressure sensor technology, which could help transform robotic systems.”
The sensors are made of 3D graphene foam, which has special properties when mechanical stress is applied. They employ a piezoresistive approach, which means that when pressure is applied, the material dynamically changes its electric resistance, making it simple to detect and adapt to the range of pressure required, from light to heavy.
Gii, our novel 3D graphene foam, has the capability to mimic the sensitivity and feedback of human touch, which could have a transformative impact on how robotics can be used for a whole range of real-world applications from surgery to precision manufacturing.
Marco Caffio, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Integrated Graphene Ltd.
He stated, “We know the unique property of Gii makes it suitable for use in other applications like disease diagnostics and energy storage, so we are always very excited to be able to demonstrate its flexibility in projects like this one.”
Within robotics and wearable electronics, the use of pressure sensors is a vital element, to provide either an information input system, or to give robotic systems human-like motor skills. An advanced material like 3D graphene foam offers excellent potential for use in such applications, due to its outstanding electrical, mechanical and chemical properties.
Dr Carlos Garcia Nunez, School of Computing Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of the West of Scotland
“Our work shines a light on the significant potential for this technology to revolutionize the robotics industry with dynamic pressure sensors,” stated Nunez.
The SRPe-NMIS Industrial Doctorate Program brings together ground-breaking academic research with industry partners to drive forward innovation in engineering. These collaborative PhD projects not only enhance the Scottish engineering research landscape, but produce innovation-focused, industry-ready PhD graduates to feed the talent pipeline.
Claire Ordoyno, Interim Director, Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering
The project’s next phase, which is supported by the University of the West of Scotland, Integrated Graphene Ltd, SRPe, and NMIS, will focus on improving the sensors’ sensitivity before expanding their application in robotic systems.
Douglas, C. I., et al. (2022) Ultra-Thin Graphene Foam Based Flexible Piezoresistive Pressure Sensors for Robotics. Key Engineering Materials. doi:10.4028/p-oy94hj.