An Indian-origin scientist in the UK has bagged a 1.07 million pounds funding grant to work on a pioneering technology of creating an ultra-flexible tactile skin for robotics and prosthetics.
Dr Ravinder Dahiya has got the grant from Britain's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to work on the technology that could enable a robot not only to carry a cup of tea to an elderly person but can also sense whether it is too hot to handle.
Dahiya, who joined the University of Glasgow last year as a senior lecturer in electronic and nanoscale engineering, is one of the leading academics from 10 UK universities to have been awarded a total of 13 million pounds to maintain the UK's research leadership in three areas – Advanced Materials, Robotic and Autonomous Systems and Synthetic Biology.
Until now, no robotics scientist has been able to create ultra-flexible tactile skin. Either the sensor has been too big or the electronics not sufficiently flexible.
However, Dahiya believes he is on the cusp of a breakthrough and that he has found a way of incorporating electronics and sensors on bendable silicon-based surfaces that will be 50 micrometres thick – thinner than the aluminium foil we use every day.
He will be working in collaboration with Professor Duncan Gregory, Chair in Inorganic Materials in the School of Chemistry, on the creation of silicon based nanostructures such as nanowires which are printed on bendable substrates in manner that will eventually lead to flexible electronic or tactile skin with distributed sensors and electronics.
By developing a printing technique for high-mobility materials such as silicon, he will obtain high-performance electronics at a low cost base.
This research will also use the state-of-the- art nanofabrication tools in the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre at the University of Glasgow.
"Interfacing the multidisciplinary fields of robotics and nanotechnology, this research on ultra-flexible tactile skin will open up whole new areas within both robotics and nanotechnology," Dahiya said.
"So far, robotics research has focused on using dexterous hands, but if the whole body of a robot is covered with skin, it will be able to carry out tasks like lifting an elderly person. In the nanotechnology field, it will be a new paradigm whereby nanoscale structures are used not for nanoscale electronics, but for macroscale bendable electronics system," he said.
"This research will also provide a much-needed electronics engineering perspective to the field of flexible electronics," he added.
His research is aligned with wider work on flexible electronics – the creation of bendable pieces of technology that will replace the flat screen computer or tablet.
In future, Dahiya said, mobile phones will be more like a wristband, providing far more information than currently, such as carrying out health monitoring.