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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N020421/1
Title: ESSENCE: Embedding Softness into Structure Enabling Distributed Tactile Sensing of High-order Curved Surfaces
Principal Investigator: Liu, Dr H
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
The Shadow Robot Company
Department: Informatics
Organisation: Kings College London
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 01 May 2016 Ends: 30 December 2017 Value (£): 100,549
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Manufacturing Machine & Plant Robotics & Autonomy
Vision & Senses - ICT appl.
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Manufacturing Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
25 Nov 2015 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 25th and 26th November 2015 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Tactile perception is essential for robotic systems to perform tasks efficiently involving physical interactions with the environments such as carrying out assembly tasks or manipulating objects in manufacturing, in particular in uncontrolled environments. Research has shown that the efficiency of human manipulation is largely based on the sophisticated tactile afferents distributed across the human skin. If the tactile sensory system of human skin is neurologically damaged, a person significantly loses the efficiency for manipulation. Human tactile perception is still far beyond that of tactile sensing technology hitherto. To narrow the gap, extensive research has been carried out to develop robot skin with distributed tactile sensing elements (tactels). The existing tactile array sensing methods commonly utilize piezoresistive or capacitive materials, strain gauges, conductive elastomer or liquid and fiber-optics. While tactile sensing technologies have dramatically advanced in regards to spatial resolution, sensitivity, sensor flexibility and stretch-ablity, one major unsolved problem is to provide distributed tactile sensing capability to complex structural surfaces, which are normally described use high-order polynomial geometric equations, such as quadratic ellipsoidal surfaces, especially with small radii.The existing flexible and stretchable tactile array sensors are fabricated in the form of a film, thus difficult to be attached to those high-order polynomial surfaces. Since those surfaces are commonly used in various engineering designs, this problem significantly reduces the applicability of existing tactile array sensing methods.

This project proposes a novel method to solve this bottleneck by utilizing 3D printing technique to embed distributed sub-millimeter soft material channels within that structure. Forces applied to the structure surface will induce micro deformations of the soft material channels. Thus those soft material channels act as tactile afferent fibres within human tissue providing distributed tactile information on the structure. Through the project, we aim to develop the general principles of using the proposed method for accurate and robust tactile sensing.

Compared to existing tactile array sensors, the proposed method provides the capability of placing the tactels on a structure with arbitrary surfaces according to bespoke designs; it requires simple fabrication processes and is easy to be applied to miniaturized structures; the proposed method is also cost effective for providing large number tactile sensing elements.

The immediate project success will be assessed based on the achieved tactile sensing performance compared to the current state of the art commercial tactile array sensors, as well as the reliability and adaptiveness of the proposed method demonstrated in our exemplary application with SHADOW. The long-term success of the project will be measured by the takeup of the proposed sensing principles that we shall develop by both the academic communities and industries.

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