Elisabeth Smela, Miao Yu

Funding Agency

National Science Foundation (National Robotics Initiative)




Research enabled by the three-year, $600K Compliant Multifunctional Robotic Structures for Safety and Communication by Touch grant will enable better training of robots by enabling them to physically communicate via human touch using new compliant multifunctional structures. To achieve this, arrays of conducting polymers will be developed to form a system similar to the human nervous system that can sense shape and forces distributions. This sensor array will be integrated into composite foam structures using a scalable additive manufacturing process. To support development of models and to serve as proof-of-concept for these multifunctional structures on robotic platforms, simulated co-robotics experiments will be conducted using a robotic arm interacting with objects of varying compliance. Experimental details of the associated contact mechanics will be quantified in real-time using Digital Image Correlation and conventional video imaging. Output from the sensor array will then be related to shape and force distributions by solving the nonlinear inverse problem using a novel Singular Value Decomposition method. Research results will be documented and disseminated, and the experiments will be converted to STEM demonstrations targeted at educating young girls.

This research will lead to new compliant, scalable, sensing structures that simultaneously monitor in real-time both global and local shapes, as well as force distributions. Since compliant multifunctional sensing structures do not yet exist for robots, it is envisioned that the proposed work will enable realization of new bio-inspired control principles for training robots. This will significantly advance the ability to make safer interactions and decisions in co-robotics by differentiating robotic interactions with humans from other objects in their environment. The proposed integration of research and education will train new mechanical engineers to create multifunctional products that enable new products and new capabilities in existing products in critical areas such as healthcare. The new fabrication methods will enable these structures to be manufactured in the United States in a cost-competitive manner, increasing employment.