Fiberglass glove

This touch sensitive glove is made from stretchable optical fibers

By Karina Shah

This glove can detect when it is bent, stretched or pressurized

Hedan Bai

A touch-sensitive glove made from stretchable fiber optic sensors could be used in robotics, sports and medicine.

“We have developed a sensor that can detect haptic interactions just like our own skin sensors [the] Environment, ”says Hedan Bai of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Bai and her team made the optical fiber glove from thin elastomeric polyurethane cables that let the light of an LED through. The light is interrupted when the cables are bent, stretched, or pressurized.

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The team colored parts of the fibers with different colors, meaning that the color of the light emerging from the fibers will change if they are distorted. The researchers analyze the light patterns in order to estimate the location and type of distortion in the glove.

Because the fiber optic sensors are stretchable, they can be used in smart clothing, wearables, and soft robots. “You don’t want a stiff sensor in a soft robot as it limits the capabilities of the robot,” says team member Rob Shepherd, also at Cornell.

The team also deals with athletic and medical applications. “We plan to use these stretchable optical fibers to measure breathing and muscle contractions for the next year,” says Shepherd, looking for ways to provide information about a baseball player’s interactions with the ball. “This will provide a lot of knowledge that the coach can draw on to improve the player’s performance,” said Bai.

“These sensors can do anything,” says Andrew Spielberg of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The fact that so many modes of deformation can be measured at the same time – bending, stretching, and compression – is very promising.”

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126 / science.aba5504

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