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Intelligent sensors boast haptic feedback

Posted: 15 Jul 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Fraunhofer ISC  smart sensor  haptic feedback  piezoelectric 

Fraunhofer ISC's Centre for Smart Materials (CeSMa) has developed what it describes as a type of smart materials that has potential to be used to create intelligent sensors with haptic feedback.

Intelligent and adaptive materials possess properties that react on external factors such as magnetic or electrostatic fields. For instance, consistency, flow properties, expansion behaviour or pressure sensibility can change under influence of these external factors. These properties can be used to make these materials act as sensors or actuators. The CeSMa, an entity of the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research (ISR) in Wurzburg (Germany), uses such materials to develop prototypes of many industry branches.

Switches and pressure sensors on the basis of highly sensitive piezoelectric layers or dielectric elastomer sensors (DES), which are extremely stretchy, can adapt to a variety of haptic requirements and mechanical sensor functions. While DES are suitable more for soft surfaces, piezoelectric sensors can be utilised more easily with hard materials such as steel. DES represent a new category of mechanical sensors that can be used to measure strain, forces and pressure. Featuring extreme ductility of up to 100 per cent, DES can be integrated into structures that are subject to significant deformation and strain. An application example in such an environment would be seat occupancy sensors that provide additional information on load distribution. CeSMa researchers succeeded in developing innovative sensor mats that react very sensitively on pressure. Car seats equipped with these intelligent DES sensor mats can sense the position of the respective passenger can help to reduce the risk of injury during an accident. Other potential applications could be in the field of geriatric care: Integrated into a mattress, the mat can support the prophylaxis of pressure sores.

Thin piezoelectric layers on steel foil carriers offer great design freedom with respect to size, shape and curvature. In addition, this technology can be used to implement "invisible" switches and sensors in car interiors, for instance on the instrument panel. Insensitive to dust and dirt, they enable implementing functional surfaces even in rough environments. In addition, electrostatic fields can be integrated into the foils which can serve as proximity sensors. Thus, the control panels generate a proximity signal and at the same time provide a haptic feedback when activated. The combination of proximity and pressure sensor with haptic feedback offers new options in the design of Human-Machine Interfaces (HMI).

The sensor concepts developed by the CeSMa also makes it possible to monitor safety relevant components, enabling continuous or periodic monitoring.

Another technique developed by CeSMa is suited to detect structural damages in glass, carbon fibre or steel structures. The Wurzburg scientists developed ultrasound transducers on the basis of piezoelectric materials that transform mechanical strain into electric signals or electric control voltages into movement. This principle can also be applied to carrier materials with high operating temperatures. Towards this end, the researchers developed high-temperature signal transducers based on novel monocrystal materials that can be used for permanent structural monitoring in high-temperature environments. Application examples for these transducers are monitoring hot pipelines operating at temperatures of up to 600°C in chemical plants and power plants.

- Christoph Hammerschmidt
  EE Times Europe

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