The topic of soft robotics has multiple applications: Electronic skin, soft exoskeletons and shape-shifting robots are part of those, and at the same time it faces many challenges in order to become more commercially available, such as the development of soft actuators and sensors. This summer I had the opportunity to work under the mentorship of Dr. James Pikul in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics towards the construction of a soft sensor capable of measuring the strain of a robot’s skin. With this type of sensor a robot would be able to get feedback about the current state of deformation of its skin, being possible to move more precisely, for example.
My research, entitled “ High Strain Capacitive Sensor with Independent X-Y Axis Measurement by Fringe Effect ” consisted of projecting and manufacturing the soft sensor with silicone and conductive carbon black particles, intercalating thin layers (0,16 mm) of conductive and insulating silicone to assemble a capacitive sensor. With a simple design a small (1mm²) stretchable (200% maximum strain) sensor was initially built, however due to sensor geometry it could not differentiate how much in each direction it was being stretched. After testing different sensor geometries with a simulation software it was possible to find a geometry capable of differentiating the stretching of both X and Y axis at the same time.
I would like to thank PURM for the opportunity to get involved in the research of a field that interested me since before coming to Penn, and the attention that Dr. Pikul gave me while suggesting how I could approach the problems that I was having and keeping the flow of ideas in the project. This experience helped me understand how the academical career is like, and motivated me to go deeper and make an impact in the field.