Electronic glove

WPI Researchers Receive $ +1.7 Million for Development of Electronic Gloves Tele-Operating Robotic Systems | News

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers Pratap Rao, Cagdas Onal and Zhi Li have received $ 1,764,938 in federal and state funds to develop a soft, lightweight glove equipped with printed sensors and electronic circuits that will allow a user to teleoperate or train robotic systems.

From left, Ellen Piccioli, Pratap Rao and Zhi Li

SEMI-FlexTech, a consortium working to advance the production of flexible printed electronics, awarded $ 920,696 in federal funding from a cooperation agreement with the Army Research Laboratory for Glove Development. The Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2), a state effort to advance manufacturing innovations and employment growth through industry-academic collaborations, has awarded an additional $ 844,242 to purchase equipment at WPI and UMass Lowell to be used to produce and test a prototype glove.

Rao, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and principal investigator (PI) on grants, said the researchers will produce a prototype glove within 18 months. The glove will be flexible and washable, with integrated circuits printed on elastic fabric. The inflatable pockets around the fingers will fill with air to give the user feedback and the sensation of grasping an object, and the glove will be powered by a battery that is located in the pocket of a garment worn by the user.

“A fully integrated glove that allows a human to use or train a robotic system could be used in advanced manufacturing environments, warehouses, remote healthcare, hazardous situations and other applications,” said Rao. “Additionally, the manufacturing methods and wearable technologies we develop will benefit Massachusetts by expanding the state’s manufacturing capabilities and the experience of Massachusetts workers.”

Cagdas Onal alt

Cagda Onal

The project is based on a glove designed by Onal, associate professor at the Department of Robotics Engineering. Onal and Li, who is an assistant professor in the Robotics Engineering Department, are co-PIs of the SEMI-FlexTech and M2I2 scholarships. Additionally, all three WPI professors are training graduate students in interdisciplinary research through the WPI National Science Foundation’s Future of Robots in the Workplace – Research and Development (FORW-RD NRT) program, led by Onal.

“The glove we develop will allow humans to better collaborate with robots,” said Onal. “Users wearing the glove will be able to train robotic equipment to move. In other applications, humans can learn a task by training on robotic equipment. “

Researchers will use SEMI-FlexTech funding to develop a glove and software to control it. M2I2 funds will go to the purchase of production equipment that will be housed at the university’s Lab for Education and Application Prototypes (LEAP) and test equipment that will be housed in the FORW-RD NRT collaborative space. The researchers will use the equipment to print integrated circuits onto a glove and bond microchips and other components to the circuits, and to test the glove with a movable robotic arm, eye-sensing goggles and a virtual reality system.

“Our work will lead to more subtle interfaces between humans and robots and this will allow users to control machinery remotely in a way that more closely resembles human movement,” Li said.

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Flexible circuits

M2I2 had previously awarded WPI $ 4 million for LEAP development, and the new M2I2 grant comes from state funding for projects that support NextFlex and Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing, initiatives that are part of a nationwide network of USA Manufacturing Institutes. NextFlex also supported WPI’s past research that led to advances in inkjet printing for flexible electronics.

“Through the M2I2 program, the Commonwealth has committed over $ 100 million to promote innovative projects across the Commonwealth that will improve the competitiveness of our advanced manufacturing sector,” said Christine Nolan, director of MassTech’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing with based in Westborough, which manages the M2I2 program. “This project brings together two of our leading universities when it comes to manufacturing innovation, WPI and UMass Lowell, who have collaborated on several other projects. Their development of this interactive glove could have a material impact on the manufacturing sector, but also on healthcare, defense and consumer products such as digital games. There is enormous potential. “

“This new project is a prime example of synergies between manufacturing institutes that are leading to further avenues of funding, team interactions and the expanded impact of WPI’s investments in LEAP,” said Ellen Piccioli, director of innovation. of WPI production. “Projects like these leverage WPI’s strengths in advanced materials, manufacturing, robotics and artificial intelligence. These projects are also in line with M2I2’s goals regarding the advancement of innovation and job growth through collaborations between academia, industry and government. “

UMass Lowell is thrilled to have our researchers, Professor Joey Mead of Plastics Engineering, Researcher Jinde Zhang, Assistant Professor of Plastics Engineering Jay Park and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chris Hansen, as part of this. collaboration project with WPI. The project leverages our expertise in stretchable materials, soft robotics and advanced manufacturing processes to complement the expertise of our WPI colleagues. This is a great example of how collaboration between our academic research institutes in the region can lead to new innovations with a major social impact. We are extremely grateful to the state (through M2I2) and to SEMI-FlexTech for their support, ”said Julie Chen of UMass Lowell, Vice Chancellor for Economic Research and Development.

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