NSF CAREER Award to Develop New Class of Soft Deformation Sensors with Origami Patterns
ECE/Bouve Associate Professor Kristen Dorsey was awarded a $500K NSF CAREER award for “Rigidity Tuned Elastomer Origami Tessellations for Fast, Reconfigurable, and Soft Mechanoreceptors.” Origami patterns, which have unique mechanical properties that cannot be achieved in flat materials, are promising solutions for more accurately measuring complex deformations. The goal of this work is to measure how stretchable and soft origami behaves and to study whether soft, origami-patterned sensors can distinguish pressure, strain, and curvature to realize a new class of soft deformation sensors.
Abstract Source: NSF
Mechanical deformation sensors made from rubber, fabric, and other soft materials are poised to unobtrusively measure human motion, which will lead to human-machine interfaces, human-robot cooperation, active prostheses, and assistive devices for people with limited mobility or dexterity. In these applications, complex motions such as bending, twisting, and straining are present. Most soft sensor designs respond similarly to these deformations, which limits their accuracy if more than one deformation occurs. Origami patterns, which have unique mechanical properties that cannot be achieved in flat materials, are promising solutions for more accurately measuring complex deformations. The goal of this work is to measure how stretchable and soft origami behaves and to study whether soft, origami-patterned sensors can distinguish pressure, strain, and curvature to realize a new class of soft deformation sensors. Soft, origami-patterned sensors will be modeled and fabricated. Their mechanical properties and sensing performance will be characterized. Female undergraduate engineering students at a women’s college will participate in carrying out this research through summer and semester-long research opportunities. In conjunction with the research objectives, this project will encourage middle school students and teachers to learn about flexible sensors through a series of workshops.
The research goal of this project is to investigate whether soft material origami demonstrates mechanical properties that are advantageous for selective or multimodal strain, pressure, and curvature sensors. Silicone elastomers are flexible and compliant, which makes them excellent materials for use in soft sensing applications. Flat elastomer sensors, however, have non-specific responses to curvature, strain, pressure, and force. Changing the sensor morphology to bias the response towards one deformation may decouple these deformations while preserving the elastomer’s advantageous properties. Origami and kirigami patterns are a promising approach to decoupling deformations and increasing mechanical selectivity. By modifying the pattern and fold angle or cut angle, origami and kirigami tessellations can tune the material’s Poisson’s ratio and stiffness. The project has three research objectives: 1) to model and characterize origami-patterned silicone elastomers under mechanical deformations, 2) to combine patterns that successfully decouple deformations with soft sensing modalities (e.g., resistive, capacitive), and 3) to fabricate origami patterned sensors with variable stiffness folds to demonstrate reconfigurable, high-dynamic range sensors. This investigation will increase fundamental understanding of the mechanical properties of origami-patterned silicone elastomers. The fabrication work will also yield new knowledge about generating such patterns in silicone elastomers and techniques to integrate mechanical sensing modalities into soft, three-dimensional structures.
This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.