A new type of fbg pressure sensor based on light could allow the creation of sensitive artificial skins to give robots a better sense of touch. The silicone sheet can be placed on display panels to enable touch screens or can be wrapped on robot surfaces as an artificial skin layer for tactile interactions. In addition to this, such new sensor could allow to creation optically transparent touch screens and devices, and wearable blood-pressure monitors for humans.
Researchers from the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (Daejeon, South Korea) and Hanyang University (Seoul, South Korea) developed a flexible, transparent fiber optic device that detects pressure by analyzing changes in the amount of light traveling through tiny tunnels embedded in polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a common type of silicon. This device is sensitive to even gentle pressure and is less prone to failure compared to previous types of fbg pressure sensors. It also should be feasible to incorporate the embedded optical sensors across a large surface area.
The fiber optic device works by measuring the flow of light through a precisely arranged pair of optical waveguides called a photonic tunnel-junction array. The waveguides run parallel to each other and are embedded in PDMS. PDMS is a very well-known biocompatible, non-toxic material, so the sensor sheet may even be applied on or inside the human body, for example, to monitor blood pressure.
Several steps are needed to move the sensor from a laboratory demonstration to a practical device. In developing the prototype, the research team used precision alignment tools, which would be too expensive and time-consuming to use in most commercial applications. An alternative approach, pigtail fibers, which telecommunications companies use to couple fibers in their systems, should make the process easier.
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