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Stretchable Nanocomposite Sensors, Nanomembrane Interconnectors, and Wireless Electronics toward Feedback–Loop Control of a Soft Earthworm Robot

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posted on 28.08.2020, 15:37 by Riccardo Goldoni, Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin, Yun-Soung Kim, Jongsu Kim, Nathan Zavanelli, Musa Mahmood, Bangyuan Liu, Frank L. Hammond, Daniel I. Goldman, Woon-Hong Yeo
Sensors that can detect external stimuli and perceive the surrounding areas could offer an ability for soft biomimetic robots to use the sensory feedback for closed-loop control of locomotion. Although various types of biomimetic robots have been developed, few systems have included integrated stretchable sensors and interconnectors with miniaturized electronics. Here, we introduce a soft, stretchable nanocomposite system with built-in wireless electronics with an aim for feedback–loop motion control of a robotic earthworm. The nanostructured strain sensor, based on a carbon nanomaterial and a low-modulus silicone elastomer, allows for seamless integration with the body of the soft robot that can accommodate large strains caused by bending, stretching, and physical interactions with obstacles. A scalable, cost-effective, and screen-printing method manufactures an array of the strain sensors that are conductive and stretchable over 100% with a gauge factor over 38. An array of nanomembrane interconnectors enables a reliable connection between soft sensors and wireless electronics while tolerating the robot’s multimodal movements. A set of computational and experimental studies of soft materials, stretchable mechanics, and hybrid packaging provides the key design factors for a reliable, nanocomposite sensor system. The miniaturized wireless circuit, embedded in the robot joint, offers real-time monitoring of strain changes during the motions of a robotic segment. Collectively, the soft sensor system presented in this work shows great potential to be integrated with other flexible, stretchable electronics for applications in soft robotics, wearable devices, and human-machine interfaces.