Soft-sensing interfaces with multifunctional smart materials

cyvy Research Project

The Cyber Valley “Locomotion in Biorobotic and Somatic Systems” research group investigates the biomechanics of locomotion and underlying morphological adaptations, as evolved by nature. The researchers then apply their biological findings to develop life-like robots and functional materials that are similar to how they occur in nature. Their research is at the interface of engineering and biology – a relatively new and promising field. 

Dr. Ardian Jusufi and Hritwick Banerjee envision developing a flexible, stretchable, and biocompatible external sensor made from multi-functional smart materials that could one day be applied in healthcare, both for humans and in non-invasive veterinary care. The sheet-like sensor would adhere externally to the human or animal exterior as smoothly as a second layer of skin, and would stay in place no matter how a person or animal moves. The sensor could then detect a person’s health, sense blood pressure and other biometric values, or whether a person had an irregular heart beat that could indicate adverse health events such as heart attacks. In addition to a broad of range of biomedical applications, the soft and flexible sensor could also be built into smart clothes, wearable electronics, or soft robotics, to name just a few examples. They could also be used to improve human-machine interaction. For instance, self-driving cars could be equipped with such sensors. If a person touched the sensor while sitting in the vehicle, it could detect an imminent medical emergency and send a signal to the autopilot, which would immediately drive the car to the nearest hospital. 

There are substantial technological challenges on the path to developing soft interfaces of this kind, which would have to potentially gather a broad range of healthcare information while being wrapped around an arm or leg like silk. The fundamental features of such a sensor must be significantly improved to enable performance. This is why fundamental basic research is required to explore flexibility, sensitivity, repeatability, linearity, durability, and stimuli-responsive material, for instance. 

Top sum up: the key aims of the scientists’ research project are as follows: 

  • manufacturing pressure-sensitive tactile sensing which is strain invariant, and improving the interface between highly stretchable and biocompatible conducting materials which provide excellent adhesion
  • developing a sensing sleeve with a multi-stimuli response embedded into a single hybrid platform that could actively conform to the device or body without compromising efficacy, and
  • exploring innovative automobile, entertainment industry applications for cutting- edge soft sensors, including integration with mobile soft robots, rehabilitative systems, and possibly collision-aware surgical robotics