A “pioneering” project which aims to develop advanced sensors for use in robotic systems could transform prosthetics.

Scottish researchers hope to improve the dexterity and motor skills of robotic limbs through the use of accurate pressure sensors which provide haptic feedback and distributed touch.

The research project is led by University of the West of Scotland (UWS), Integrated Graphene Ltd, and supported by the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering (SRPe), National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland (NMIS) Industry Doctorate Programme in Advanced Manufacturing.

Professor Des Gibson, director of the Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging at UWS, and project principal investigator, says that robotic systems often fail to execute certain tasks easily due to a lack of sensory capabilities.

She said: “For robots to reach their full potential, accurate pressure sensors, capable of providing greater tactile ability, are required.

“Our collaboration with Integrated Graphene Ltd has led to the development of advanced pressure sensor technology, which could help transform robotic systems.”

The sensors are made from 3D graphene foam, which offers unique capabilities when put under mechanical stress. This means the material dynamically changes its electric resistance when put under pressure, easily detecting and adapting to the range of pressure required, from light to heavy.

Marco Caffio, co-founder and chief scientific officer at Integrated Graphene said: “Gii, our novel 3D graphene foam, has the capability to mimic the sensitivity and feedback of human touch, which could have a transformative impact on how robotics can be used for a whole range of real-world applications from surgery to precision manufacturing.”

Dr Carlos Garcia Nunez, School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS, says the technology could “revolutionise” the robotics industry.

He said: “Within robotics and wearable electronics the use of pressure sensors is a vital element, to provide either an information input system, or to give robotic systems human-like motor skills.

“An advanced material like 3D graphene foam offers excellent potential for use in such applications, due to its outstanding electrical, mechanical and chemical properties.”

The next stage of the project will look to further increase sensitivity of the sensors, before developing for wider use in robotic systems.