Sensor equipped hand

Sensor-Equipped Glove to Allow Remote Operation

WPI researchers Pratap Rao, Cagdas Onal, and Zhi Li have been awarded $1,764,938 in federal and state funds to develop a soft, lightweight glove equipped with printed sensors and electronic circuits that will enable a user to tele-operate or train robotic systems.

SEMI-FlexTech, a consortium working to advance manufacturing of printed flexible electronics, has awarded $920,696 in federal funds from a cooperative agreement with the Army Research Laboratory for development of the glove. The Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2), a state effort to advance manufacturing innovations and job growth through industry-academic collaborations, has awarded an additional $844,242 for the purchase of equipment at WPI and UMass Lowell that will be used to produce and test a prototype glove.

Rao, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and principal investigator on the grants, says researchers will produce a prototype glove within 18 months. The glove will be flexible and washable, with integrated circuits printed onto stretchable fabric. Inflatable pockets around the fingers will fill with air to give a user feedback and the sensation of grasping an object; the glove will be powered with a battery that sits in the pocket of a garment worn by the user.

“A fully integrated glove that allows a human to operate or train a robotic system could be used in advanced manufacturing settings, warehouses, remote health care, hazardous situations, and other applications,” says Rao. “In addition, the production methods and wearable technologies we develop will benefit Massachusetts by expanding the state’s manufacturing capabilities and the expertise of Massachusetts workers.”

The project builds on a glove designed by Onal, associate professor in the Department of Robotics Engineering. Onal and Li, assistant professor in the Department of Robotics Engineering, are co-PIs on the SEMI-FlexTech and M2I2 grants. The three professors are training graduate students in interdisciplinary research through WPI’s National Science Foundation Future of Robots in the Workplace–Research and Development program (FORW-RD NRT), which is led by Onal.

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