Health and Behavior

Soft Sensors and Actuators for Wearables to Assist People with Disabilities

Led by Erik Engeberg, Ph.D.

Erik Engeberg, Ph.D.

Erik D. Engeberg received the Ph.D. degree from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA, in 2008. He is an Associate Professor at the Ocean and Mechanical Engineering Department, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL, USA. His research interests include bioinspired control, robotics, energy harvesting, electrophysiology, and compliant sensors. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation through the National Robotics Initiative and I-Corps programs and also by the Office of Naval Research.

Dr. Engeberg has served as the Associate Editor of the 2014 and 2016 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA). He received the Outstanding Paper Award at the 2012 International Conference on Control and Automation Systems. He has delivered numerous invited presentations, most recently at the 2015 IEEE ICRA Robotic Hand Grasping and Manipulation Workshop, Seattle, USA.


This project focuses on the design of soft sensors and actuators for use in assistive applications for people with disabilities. Wearable robotic devices, such as prosthetic hands and arm exoskeletons, have tremendous potential to substantially improve the quality of life for many people with disabilities, including amputees and people with ambulatory impairments (e.g., resulting from stroke). Traditional robotic sensors and actuators comprise rigid components, in stark contrast to compliant biological limbs. The mismatch poses a substantial challenge in integrating wearable robotic devices for the arms and hands. The intellectual merit of the proposed REU project is in investigating alternative solutions to overcome these difficulties, both in the realm of soft robotic actuators and highly stretchable, compliant sensors. The project will involve two REU participants each summer. One participant will be tasked with designing a soft robotic actuator and controller module, which could together be used as a wearable robotic device. This will necessitate solid modeling and 3D printing and fabrication skills, along with programming for control. The second REU participant will be charged with the design and evaluation of a highly stretchable sensor made from liquid metal embedded in a highly stretchable substrate. This will necessitate design, electronics, and signal processing skills to implement. The participants will work together as a team to ensure that the material properties of the soft robotic actuator and highly stretchable sensor are compatible so that the sensor can be integrated within the soft robotic actuator and appropriately function together as a system. This will require an iterative design process under the supervision of Dr. Engeberg to ensure the sensor and actuator modules can be merged into a cohesive device that could be used as a wearable robotic device to assist people with disabilities. The broader impacts of the project are significant, exploring new wearable sensors and actuators that have the potential to substantially improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.