Background: Prosthetic and robotic hands demonstrate poor dexterity during object manipulation, often dropping objects. Humans rarely allow objects to slip because we can sense if an object is slippery and adjust our grip. This research program has three work packages: (WP1) To advance our understanding of how humans sense friction; (WP2) To demonstrate, using a number of friction-based tactile sensor prototypes currently under development by our research groups in Dublin and Sydney, that friction sensing leads to improved dexterity in robotic manipulation; (WP3) To use advanced design, manufacturing, and instrumentation methods to miniaturise the proposed sensors to a scale similar to a human finger pad. The outcomes of this research, which would endow artificial hands with the ability to feel the slipperiness and/or impending loss of grip of a grasped object, could significantly advance the fields of prosthetics, telesurgery, and service, agricultural, and manufacturing robotics.
PhD scope: The candidate will work on WP3 of this project, refining and miniaturising the existing tactile sensor design concepts under development at UCD (Dublin, Ireland) and UNSW (Sydney, Australia). See demo: https://youtu.be/uKQE_NObHJo
. We have developed a novel optical technique to instrument silicone protrusions which resemble the papillae found in the skin of the human finger pad. We can measure forces and displacements with excellent accuracy (millinewtons and micrometres, respectively). Creating a dense array of such protrusion allows us to approximate the biomechanics of the human pad, and possibly exceed its sensitivity; the human finger has an effective density of about 500 sensing elements across the finger pad. In addition to measuring contact forces, torques, vibration, and slip, the proposed design concept ultimately allows us to sense the friction of the contact without ever completely losing the grasp. The candidate will miniaturise the proposed tactile sensor (robot finger pad) design using advanced sub-millimetre manufacturing techniques; by creating a dense array of deformable sensing elements, and by developing novel light generation and detection optoelectronic circuits which are both suitable for mass production and operate effectively at the proposed device dimensions. The candidate will demonstrate that this miniaturised design retains the ability to estimate friction from slip events on the periphery of the finger pad before complete loss of grip occurs.
Supervision and research environment: The candidate will be supervised by A/Prof Stephen Redmond (School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, UCD https://people.ucd.ie/stephen.redmond
). The candidate will also collaborate with Dr Heba Khamis at UNSW (Sydney, Australia). The candidate will have an opportunity to contribute to the SFI Insight Centre for Data Analytics (https://www.insight-centre.org/
) based at UCD. There are also ongoing commercialisation activities around this technology (https://www.contactile.com
Academic requirements: The minimum academic qualification is a first- or upper-second-class honours degree (or an equivalent international degree) in electrical engineering, software engineering, computer engineering, mechanical or mechatronic engineering, biomedical engineering, robotics, or a related field which provides sufficient background in the skills required for the successful completion of this project. Desirable skills include knowledge of, or experience with: 3D printers; six-axis robotic arms; six-axis hexapod robotic stages; robotic grippers; machining/moulding/assembly of bespoke mechanical and electrical equipment; development of real-time control software; real-time data acquisition (SPI, etc.); collection and analysis of experimental data and results.
Funding: A stipend of €18,500 per annum plus tuition fee is available for a maximum of four years. The project is generously funded by Science Foundation Ireland’s President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award, held by A/Prof Redmond, which includes an extensive budget for laboratory apparatus, consumables, and travel. Both tactile sensor design work packages are also partly supported by US Office of Naval Research Global funding held by A/Prof Redmond and Dr Heba Khamis at UNSW (Sydney, Australia).