Our group performs research activities within the Center for MicroBioRobotics@SSSA (CMBR) and focuses on artificial touch, with the goal to provide a leap forward in the next generation of robots, wearable systems and human–machine interfaces. Such systems will become the more immersed in the real world, the more they will be capable of interacting in a natural (and safe) manner with humans and environment. In this vision, the structure and the constitutive materials acquire a crucial role because they mediate the interaction between the artefact and environment/man; at the basis of such interaction is the detection and exploitation of tactile cues and of mechanical information more at large.  Our objective is to develop new classes of tactile (and mechanical) sensory systems that owing to the bioinspired strategies and to the materials with which they are built they are fully embodied in soft robots and smart systems.
Research activities are performed by taking inspiration from the sense of touch in living beings, thus from the natural tactile mechanisms and mechanical interaction strategies (i.e. mechanoreception) in animals and plants (through a multidisciplinary effort within the Plantoid robotic platform). At the same time, the characteristics of soft and non-linear materials are exploited, like elastomeric materials and their combinations with soft conductive materials (e.g. conductive textiles, composite materials with fillers/particles as metallic, CNT, graphene, 2D sheets, conductive fibers, conductive polymers, responsive hydrogels) in 2D and 3D fashion, in order to design and build soft but robust, and highly sensitive systems. More specifically our challenge is twofold: (1) to design and develop new mechanosensing solutions that have biomimetic mechanical features hence, from their material to the architecture, fulfil the requirement of compliance with the environment; and, (2) to reveal different modalities of the outer static and dynamic stimuli (e.g. including multi-directional force, strain, etc) at the same time without complicating the overall robotic solution in terms of structure or computation. Several transduction principles are employed like capacitive, resistive and optical. In this line we also aim at self-powered systems and the investigation of sensing strategies based on soft triboelectric composites and flexible surfaces is one important part of our research work.
Applications are related to all systems that need a safe and smart interaction with humans and environment and they include soft robotics (e.g. in medical field: assistive and rehabilitation systems, prostheses, flexible endoscopic tools, etc.) also implemented through wearable devices, and human-computer interfaces.

Laboratories

We utilize CMBR equipment 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
  • Industrial project “Sensor for mixer internal forces measurement” with Saimp S.r.l.
  • 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 Bando PAR-FAS 2014

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
  • Marc Desmuillez, School of Engineering & Physical Sciences; Sensors, Signals & Systems, Heriot-Watt University, UK
  • Christian Falconi, Department of Electronic Engineering, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy
  • Chris Melhuish and Ioannis Ieropoulos, Bristol Robotics laboratory, University of the West of England, UK

 

In IIT:

  • Giorgio Metta and Lorenzo Natale (Humanoid Sensing and Perception) for validating tactile systems in the iCub
  • Alessio Del Bue (Visual Geometry and Modelling Lab) for reconstruction algorithms in tactile systems with low computational burden
  • Mario Caironi (Printed and Molecular Electronics) for development of optical based flexible and soft devices