The importance of the sense of touch as a mean of knowledge is boosting the research towards the development of devices able to collect information on parameters such as as texture, roughness, shape, stiffness in reconfigurable mode. Soft materials and technologies can enhance the effectiveness of tactile perception. To this aim matrices of soft magnetic microactuators are under development by exploiting magnetic elastomeric membranes, actuated by underlying MEMS microcoils and based on new materials, in order to enhance the generation of magnetic field gradients. These actuated surfaces integrated on existing technologies (mobile phones, touch pads, game consoles) can turn the device into a concentrator of stimuli. Visually impaired users or persons with low sensory capabilities can benefit from active touchpad's tactile information, potentially delaying or slowing down the decline of their sensory abilities. This patented technology is developed in collaboration with Genoa: Smart Materials Platform for the nanocomposite development and RCBS for user validation.
In parallel the MEMS-Robotics group is developing a soft tactile technology to be embedded in robotics. Tactile sensing represents for a humanoid robot the mean to safely interact with people in unstructured environments (http://www.robotcompanions.eu). Our anthropomorphic approach to develop tactile sensors is based on piezoelectric AlN integrated on polymer to detect different type of forces: normal, shear, static and dynamic as in human mechanoreceptors. By integrating multiple functions in single devices, this approach is enabling a compliant and efficient technology for artificial skin, leading to a reduction of the density of needed sensors. This work is done in collaboration with Genoa RCBS for validation on robot skin.
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