The technology, which will be on display at Hannover Messe, is the work of researchers from Saarland University in Saarbrücken, near Germany’s border with France. It integrates a glove with an ultra-lightweight, flexible film made from an elastic polymer. An electrically conducting material is printed onto both sides of the silicone film. When a voltage is applied, the resulting electrostatic attractive forces cause the film to compress, extending the film laterally and increasing its surface area. This, in turn, alters the electrical capacitance of the film, effectively transforming the film into a sensing device.
“The film we use is known as a dielectric elastomer. And the glove essentially functions as a flexible sensor,” said Professor Stefan Seelecke, head of research teams at the Intelligent Material Systems Lab at Saarland University and at ZeMA (Centre for Mechatronics and Automation Technology) in Saarbrücken.
By precisely measuring the electrical resistance of the film and using algorithms to process the motion sequences, the team was able to calculate the position of the wearer’s hand and exactly how it was moving.
“We can assign a precise electrical capacitance value to any particular position of the film,” said Steffen Hau, a PhD engineer working in Prof Seelecke's team.
In combination with AR or VR devices, the glove could be used to assist service technicians or assembly line workers. For future iterations of the technology, the team plans to integrate tactile feedback into the glove so that it can operate independently as a human-machine interface, providing vibrations to alert the wearer of different scenarios.
“The computer could then send, for instance, a pulsed signal to the operator's fingertips to tell them ‘You've taken the wrong component’, or a vibrating signal to confirm ‘That is the right component’," said Hau.