Congratulations to Profs. Benjamin Hatton and Glenn Hibbard on receiving a Connaught Innovation Award! They are among six U of T Engineering researchers who received the award to advance their promising technologies, and among 10 recipients from across U of T.
“We are proud of the cutting-edge research carried out at U of T Engineering and congratulate all the recipients of the Connaught Innovation Award,” says Ramin Farnood, Vice Dean of Research at U of T Engineering. “In an evolving global marketplace, industry leaders continue to embrace the ingenuity we offer, as we work to develop solutions and maximize our impact on society.”
Benjamin Hatton: Robotic grippers inspired by octopus suckers
With inspiration often drawn from biological materials, such as plant leaves, fish scales and insect wings, Professor Benjamin Hatton and his team are interested in developing new materials with unique surfaces that can actively change their properties in response to stimuli.
His fascination with the ability of an octopus to regulate the grip of its tentacles inspired the invention of smart pads that can be digitally controlled for dynamic adhesion. The researchers are able to move microscale surface features on the small pad to mimic the on-off adhesion of individual octopus suckers.
“We are hoping the smart ‘finger pads’ can help robotic grippers grasp more efficiently,” says Hatton. “Current gripper designs, such as prosthetic hands, have limited control at the material surface, which generally leads to objects slipping or being crushed.”
Hatton and his team plan to use these smart pads to increase sensitivity and dynamic control of robotic grippers. Connaught Innovation Award funding will allow his team to integrate their work into technological applications within industry, and on a larger scale.
“We appreciate the amazing ability of the human hand to maintain an optimized grip on objects, and constantly change that grip dynamically – all without consciously thinking about it,” says Hatton. “We anticipate this work could improve the designs of prosthetic hands, assistive robotic arms, and surgical robotics.”
“We weren’t trying to make just the strongest material, or make it the most light-weight,” says Professor Glenn Hibbard. “We wanted it to be the greenest structural material we could build, and so sustainability was a part of the design of our material right from the beginning.”
The Hibbard Group has invented a new melt-stretching technique to manufacture thermoplastic sandwich panels — a flexible three-layer material used in a range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, construction and shipping. The new product is called FLYCORE. It is lighter and fully recyclable, unlike current sandwich panels on the market, which are energy intensive to produce and destined for the landfill after one use.
“We simplified the development process from six steps to one and use just a single recyclable material to make the entire panel,” says Hibbard. “The panel can be crushed to collapse and then re-melted and re-stretched without any loss of performance.”
Commercial interest in FLYCORE is picking up in the multi-billion dollar sandwich panel market. Hibbard and his team will use the Connaught Innovation Award funding to transition from testing FLYCORE in the lab to getting it market ready for interested industry partners.
Read full article by Liz Do, Tyler Irving, Fahad Pinto for the UofT Engineering News