Wearable and Stretchable Stain/Tactile Sensors for Soft Robotic Applications

To design and develop stretchable optomechanical sensors, and investigate their integration with soft gripper robots towards soft robots with feedback sensation
Description of the Project: 

Wearable sensor technologies have recently attracted tremendous attention due to their potential applications in soft robotics, human motion detection, prosthetics, and personalized healthcare monitoring. Remarkable advances in materials science, nanotechnology, and biotechnology have led to the development of various wearable and stretchable sensors. For example, researchers including us have developed resistive and capacitive-type strain and pressure sensors and demonstrated their use in soft robotics, tactile sensing and perception, and human body motion detection. Despite great progress, the majority of the current soft strain and tactile sensors suffer from poor mechanical durability and their sensing performance is highly vulnerable to atmospheric conditions such as variations in temperature and relative humidity.

In this project, the PhD candidate(s) will work on the design and development of stretchable optomechanical sensors, known to be less sensitive to environmental factors. The sensors comprise of highly soft and stretchable polymeric optical fibers integrated with LEDs and photodiodes. When stretched or compressed, the changes in the optical loss across the fibers can be measured as a function of the applied strain or force, thereby the deformation and touch event can be measured when the sensors are attached to soft-bodied robots, wearable prosthetics, or human body.  As a part of this project, the candidate(s) will investigate the effect of environmental parameters on the output signal of sensors. Additionally, the project will focus on the integration of the developed sensors and soft gripper robots or wearable prosthetic hand for feedback grasping and manipulation.

Project number: 
First Supervisor: 
Heriot-Watt University
First supervisor university: 
Heriot-Watt University
Essential skills and knowledge: 
The candidates should have a background in Mechanical Engineering, Materials Science, and Electrical Engineering, or a relevant discipline. Candidate with an interest in smart materials, soft robotics, bioelectronics, digital manufacturing, and wearable technologies are particularly encouraged to apply.
Desirable skills and knowledge: 
Knowledge of mechanics of materials and optoelectronics. Experience in materials characterization, electromechanical tests, 3D printing, and materials molding/demolding process.
Funding Available: 

- Stretchable, skin‐mountable, and wearable strain sensors and their potential applications: a review, Advanced Functional Materials, 2016, 26, 1678-1698.

- Highly stretchable and sensitive strain sensor based on silver nanowire–elastomer nanocomposite, ACS Nano, 2014, 8, 5154-5163.

- Stretchable Thermoplastic Elastomer Optical Fibers for Sensing of Extreme Deformations, Advanced Functional Materials, 2019, 29, 1802629.

- Optoelectronically innervated soft prosthetic hand via stretchable optical waveguides, Science Robotics, 2016, 1, eaai7529.