Research

The overall long-term research objective of the SMART project is the ambitious breakthrough to develop a material-oriented solution for smart soft structures. By integrating engineered functional materials, we will develop soft robotic systems to sense, actuate and heal damages so the soft robot can interact with a dynamic and unknown environment while being able to self-heal incurred damage due to fatigue, overloading, and sharp objects present in the environment or by human contact. This aim can be divided into 3 specific research objectives (RO):

RO.1: Development, characterization and tuning of stimuli-responsive smart materials designed using greener chemistries and for dedicated, user-defined properties and functionalities. This also includes the development and optimization of manufacturing processes for complex geometries and intelligent design.

RO.2: Development of a new generation of smart actuator/sensor systems with dedicated smart control and response system through artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques.

RO.3: Development of fully autonomous smart soft robotic demonstrators and derived applications.

Workpackage 1 has two main purposes. The first is that existing smart, responsive materials need to be synthesized, characterized and adapted to meet the specific requirements of soft robotics with industrial and commercial applicability. As traditional fabrication technologies are not adapted to soft robotics parts with integrated sensing and actuation, a second aim is focused on innovative fabrication processes for the smart materials to achieve complex geometries and augmented functionalities. Processing of these novel classes of materials will be made possible by adapting the current state of the manufacturing techniques to the needs of these material systems and vice versa

Participants: PCCL, VUB, BUCHEM, EMPA, PCCL, SUPRA

Workpackage 2 will build the building blocks of intelligent soft robotic systems:

– smart and self-healing actuator systems: New actuation techniques will be developed that rely on the stimuli-response of the smart materials (WP1), such as shape memory actuation and self-folding as response to a stimulus. On the other hand, the use of smart materials, DA-polymers and hydrogen bonds polymers will provide additional functionality to the actuator, like the healing ability.

– sensor systems: Using conductive smart materials (developed WP1) different types of sensors will be deployed, including piezoresistive sensors and capacitive sensors, in different shapes (fibrous, networks, conductive matrix) and patterns. Additional smart functionalities, like a healing ability, will be added to these sensors. Those sensors will be used for proprioception, both for the control (deformation and force) and health monitoring of the system. The aim is to develop sensor networks that have sufficient resolution to detect upcoming microcracks due to overload and fatigue before fatal failure, to start the SH process at resting times.

– dedicated smart control and response system through artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques. Dedicated control frameworks will be developed for structural health monitoring and autonomous self-healing scheduling to be used for force-control applications.

Participants: TalTech, VUB,UCAM, SSSA, EMPA

Workpackage 3 handles about the development of fully functional demonstrators combining actuators, sensors and intelligent control systems for applications which do not require any human intervention, maintenance, or repair when damage occurs. The integrated system will autonomously interact with the environment and sense damage, activate protection and provide the necessary stimulus to start the healing mechanisms. After healing of the damage, the successful recovery of functionality and performance needs to be evaluated and the robotic system will return to work. The demonstrators will be robot manipulators, grippers, robot hands, walking and climbing robots, growing plant-like robots, and others that will emerge in the course of the project.

Participants: UCAM, VUB,TalTech, SSSA, EMPA, BUCHEM, EMPA, PCCL

The development of the early stage researchers (ESR) entails a strong multi-disciplinary and highly collaborative character. Within the general research work plan of the project, the ESR work on their individual research projects, while being grouped in collaboration clusters, in which they work together with other ESR from other institutions. The table below lists the industrial secondments of the ESR and how the ESR will move around the partner institutions for their academic secondments to ensure effective collaboration. ESR15 who will be positioned at Suprapolix company, will perform multiple academic secondments at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, as they are already working in a more industrial environment.