Robotic Sensors Could Transform Prosthetics

Graphene foam imbues robots with human sense of touch

Image credit: Public Domain

Robotic limbs and prosthetics could be given human levels of touch sensitivity through the use of graphene foam sensors, researchers at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) have said.

The introduction of more accurate pressure sensors, which provide haptic feedback and distributed touch, will help robots to improve their dexterity and motor skills.

“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,” said professor Des Gibson, project principal investigator.

Made from 3D graphene foam, which offers unique capabilities when put under mechanical stress, the sensors use a piezoresistive approach, meaning when the material is put under pressure it dynamically changes its electric resistance, easily detecting and adapting to the range of pressure required, from light to heavy.

Marco Caffio, co-founder at Integrated Graphene, said: “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.”

The foam’s unique properties has already made it suitable for use in other applications such as disease diagnostics and energy storage.

Dr Carlos Garcia Nunez, at UWS, added: “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.

“Our work shines a light on the significant potential for this technology to revolutionise the robotics industry with dynamic pressure sensors.”

The next stage of the project will look to further increase sensitivity of the sensors, before developing for wider use in robotic systems.

In June, researchers at the University of Tokyo unveiled a process to cover a robotic finger with living human cells with the aim of making them more lifelike.

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