Advanced sensors could transform prosthetics and robotic limbs

Advanced sensors could transform prosthetics and robotic limbs.
Advanced sensors could transform prosthetics and robotic limbs. Credit: Anna Shvets/Pexels

A research project in Scotland aims to develop advanced sensors for use in robotic systems that could transform prosthetics and robotic limbs. The sensors will provide enhanced capabilities to robots, helping improve their dexterity and motor skills through the use of accurate pressure sensors, which provide haptic feedback and distributed touch.

The project is led by the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), Integrated Graphene Ltd, and supported by the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering (SRPe) and National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland (NMIS) Industry Doctorate Programme in Advanced Manufacturing.

Over recent years, the advancement in the robotics industry has been remarkable. The robots haven’t just landed in the workplace – they’re expanding skills, moving up the corporate ladder, showing awesome productivity and retention rates, and increasingly working alongside their human counterparts. 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.

“Our collaboration with Integrated Graphene Ltd has led to the development of advanced pressure sensor technology, which could help transform robotic systems,” said Professor Des Gibson, Director of the Institute of Thin Films, Sensors, and Imaging at UWS and project principal investigator.

The sensors, called Gii, are 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, quickly detecting and adapting to the range of pressure required, from light to heavy.

Researchers say their 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.

“We know the unique property of Gii makes it suitable for use in other applications like disease diagnostics and energy storage, so we’re always very excited to be able to demonstrate its flexibility in projects like this one,” said Marco Caffio, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Integrated Graphene.

“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,” said Dr. Carlos Garcia Nunez, School of Computing Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS. “Our work shines a light on the significant potential for this technology to revolutionize the robotics industry with dynamic pressure sensors.”

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