Our group performs research activities within the Center for MicroBioRobotics@SSSA (CMBR) with the goal to provide a leap forward in the area of artificial touch for the next generation of robots, wearable systems and human–machine interfaces.

Living beings use the sense of touch to interact with environment, implement movement and action. In particular, physical interaction is mediated by soft structures and materials. At the basis of physical interaction is the detection and exploitation of tactile cues and of mechanical information more at large. The sense of touch is fundamental in robots to enable their immersion in the real world, discover it, and react. External mechanical cues (that can be of various types, e.g. pressure, forces from different directions, vibration, etc.) must be perceived while dealing with exploratory movements, grasping and manipulation of unknown objects. All this is particularly challenging in soft robots since their body deformations during movement, and adaptation to the exterior, cannot be overlooked like in rigid robots so the problem acquires a new dimension in which it is necessary to include the mechanics of deformable matter in the design, modelling, and analysis of results; hence, we deal with soft mechanical sensing (or mechanosensing) more at large.

Recent Activities

Special Issue "Tactile Sensing for soft Robotics and Wearables" - Micromachines

Guest Editors
Lucia Beccai
Massimo Totaro 

Activities

Our research activities are performed along four main directions:

  • To take inspiration from the physical interaction strategies of animals and plants with the outer world, in particular from the ways mechanical information are encoded (i.e. mechanoreception). Some open questions are: is it possible to find new cues for building mechanosensing solutions without complicating the overall robotic solution in terms of structure or computation? Can new models/devices work as platforms to understand more deeply the biological mechanisms?

  • To exploit soft and non-linear materials with several transduction principles (e.g. capacitive, resistive, optical, triboelectric, piezoelectric, etc.) for building soft but robust, and highly sensitive systems in 2D and 3D; for example: elastomeric materials and their combinations with soft conductive materials (e.g. conductive polymers, conductive textiles, composite materials with fillers/particles as metals/CNT/graphene, responsive hydrogels, conductive fibers);

  • To investigate new 3D fabrication technologies across multiple scales, from micro to macro, that can be used with soft materials (passive and conductive).

  • To experiment soft robotic systems for investigating active and passive touch.

Moreover, some of our activities are also devoted to develop wearable sensing systems that humans can dress with, in a seamless manner, unobtrusively, but at the same time reliable and with good functionality. Smart sensing garments and textile-based sensors are designed and developed to monitor human movement and also parameters of physical interaction with outer world. 

The research activities are articulated among various interplaying parts that involve material selection and characterization, design of system and of transduction mechanism –including modelling, fabrication with designed technological process, development of suitable signal processing (software and hardware).

We aim at facing unexplored dimensions in robotic tactile sensing, with the final aim of embedding a new form of ‘intelligence’ in future soft robots, so enabled to interact safely with humans and environment (e.g. soft manipulation systems (continuum arms, artificial hands etc.), search and rescue robotics, new flexible endoscopic tools for medical applications, environmental monitoring/screening tools). At the same time developing new wearable smart systems they will be worn by humans to increase their capability to interact with the world during specific tasks – like in sports, or when dealing with health issues and using rehabilitation equipment or prostheses.

Laboratories

We utilize mainly the following equipment (available at CMBR) to study the biological models and to design, develop and test our devices and systems. In particular:

  • COMSOL Multiphysics to study coupled or multiphysics phenomena, in particular to simulate mechanical, optical and electrical devices and systems;
  • Clean room facilities -  including those for photolithography and thin film deposition (sputtering and evaporation), as well as direct laser writing (Nanoscribe©), inkjet-printing (DMP-2831, Dimatix, Fujifilm), electrospinning – and soft lithography;
  • Laser cutter (VersaLaser VLS3.50)  and 3D printer (CubeX, 3DSystems) to pattern thin films and build precise molds and mechanical components, respectively;
  • SEM (EVO MA10, Zeiss), Dual Beam system (Helios 600l, FEI), optical microscope (KH-7700, Hirox), optical profilometer (DCM 3D, Leica), high resolution camera, customized 3DoF systems integrating a multi-axis load cells and precision linear translators  - for studying the biological systems, and for the analysis and characterization of the developed devices;

 

Other facilities and labs utilized for this research line include electronic circuit design and fabrication facilities, a mechanical machine shop, and a chemical lab.

Projects

  • XoSoft “Soft modular biomimetic exoskeleton to assist people with mobility impairments project” EU project n.688175
  • EOLO “Sistemi innovativi per la captazione e lo sfruttamento dell’energia mini-eolica in differenti contesti ambientali antropizzati: efficienza sostenibilità e rivalorizzazione territoriale” Regional Project PAR-FAS 2014 – Starting date: June 8, 2017

Collaborations

  • Paolo Milani, Department of Physics, University of Milan, Italy
  • Christian Cipriani, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy
  • Nicola Pugno, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Trento, Italy
  • Christian Falconi, Department of Electronic Engineering, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy
  • Roberth Shepherd, Cornell University, USA
  • Unyong Jeong, Pohang University of Science and Technology, South Korea
  • Hyunjung Yi, Korea Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea
  • Ger Brinks and Eliza Bottenberg, Saxion University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands
  • Chris Baten, Roessingh Research and Development, The Netherlands

    AT IIT:
  • Marco Crepaldi (Electronic Design Lab)
  • Giorgio Metta and Lorenzo Natale (Humanoid Sensing and Perception)
  • Massimo De Vittorio (CBN@Lecce)
  • Jesus Ortiz (ADVR)