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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R003610/1
Title: Flexible and stretchable force sensor for static and dynamic measurements (FlexFo)
Principal Investigator: Mastropaolo, Dr E
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Cambridge Display Technology Ltd (CDT) Sansible Wearables
Department: Sch of Engineering
Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 01 December 2017 Ends: 28 February 2019 Value (£): 100,965
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Instrumentation Eng. & Dev. Materials Characterisation
Materials Processing Microsystems
Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Electronics Healthcare
Information Technologies Sports and Recreation
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
06 Jun 2017 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 6 and 7 June 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Force sensing plays a key technological role in providing tactile feedback in automated systems thus maximising efficiency in industrial applications (i.e., pick-and-place robots, robotic welding) and enabling novel devices and applications (i.e., video games controllers and smart homes). Now that human-oriented technologies (i.e., electronic and robotic skins, prosthetics, surgical robotic arms and rehabilitative devices, force-sensitive buttons on smartphones) are becoming a ubiquitous part of daily life, the requirement for improved force sensors is self-evident. Sensors that mimic human tactile receptors have been developed. However, the existing devices do not satisfy technological needs of flexibility, stretch-ability, high force and spatial resolution, self-powering and adaptability to measure both static and dynamic forces.

Therefore, new forms of sensor are essential and this research programme aims to tackle this technological need by proposing a new transformative device featuring a force sensitive flexible and stretchable material with embedded well-aligned and ordered nanowires (a smart nanocomposite material). The smart nanocomposite is made using a unique and innovative approach that involves filling a polymer with well-ordered and aligned high aspect ratio nanowires (well-defined geometrical shape with length much greater than width). This approach differentiates substantially from the usual conservative methods where low aspect ratio nanoparticles (imperfect spherical shapes) are randomly dispersed and distributed into polymers. In this way, the transformative strategy of organising the nanowires in well-ordered patterns will overcome the disadvantages and limitations of present sensors such as low area/force/position resolution, limited functionality (measuring either static or dynamic forces) and low adaptability to different applications (flexible but not stretchable).

The intrinsic discrete particle aspect and piezoelectric nature of the nanowires enables sensor operation in a combined resistive and piezoelectric functionality and thus enables both static and dynamics force measurements with the same device. The device will be driven with low DC bias voltage (low power consumption and zero-power when operating in "piezoelectric mode"), and will provide modularity, flexibility and stretch-ability for optimal surface conformability (i.e., adaptability to a wide range of systems and geometries). The sensor prototypes will be tested against commercially available sensors and their force resolution, flexibility, stretch-ability and reliability will be compared under different bending conditions.

In summary, the research programme has three main objectives: to create a combined resistive and piezoelectric smart nanocomposite; use the smart nanocomposite to develop a flexible and stretchable force sensor for both static and dynamic measurements; and to test and compare the developed devices against commercially available sensors.

The research will benefit those fields in which force sensing is needed (static, dynamic, impact force measurements). The first targeted application will involve integration of the devices into robotic arms to provide tactile feedback. However, the proposed approach of developing a smart nanocomposite that will enhance the performance of a sensing device has the potential to revolutionise the force sensing market, greatly improve current applications (i.e. robotics) and target novel applications including force sensing on humans (grippers, hands/feet sensors), smart clothes for healthcare and fashion, sports equipment and gadgets (currently limited solely to position or acceleration sensing).

Key Findings
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