Can you make a robot come to feel? That was the problem posed to Johnson House Heart engineer Toby Martin.
It wasn’t a coronary heart that NASA preferred to give its Robonaut, though—it was tactile sensing for the robot’s palms.
“It did not have an autonomous greedy capability,” Martin says of the initial edition of NASA’s robot astronaut. A handle methods expert, he was tasked in 2004 with hunting for a way to give it that ability. “First we experienced to determine out how to sense when it’s greedy a little something,” he says. “We preferred the hand to be equipped to seize an item and adjust finger forces and positions and tensions to choose up irregular objects.”
At minimum a single firm that responded to Martin’s ask for for proposals, Smart Fiber Optic Systems (IFOS) Corporation, was no stranger to NASA. Significantly of the Silicon Valley, California-based mostly company’s funding to build its initial technological innovation experienced come from two Smaller Small business Innovation Investigate (SBIR) contracts with Langley Investigate Heart a 10 years earlier.
NASA’s SBIR and Smaller Small business Engineering Transfer (STTR) plans make relatively modest investments in promising technologies that could demonstrate helpful to the House Agency’s missions and also clearly show industrial opportunity.
For the Langley venture, the firm experienced proposed establishing “smart surfaces” for aerospace products and other apps by creating what IFOS calls “optical nerves.” These are optical fibers with reflective micro-buildings named fiber Bragg gratings imprinted within just their cores at intervals. A device recognized as an optical interrogator sends light together the fiber, and each individual grating reflects back a certain wavelength signature, which modifications a little if there are modifications to strain or temperature.
“If you extend a grating, the wavelength that will come back becomes extended, proportional to the strain,” a phenomenon recognized as pink change, explains Richard Black, main scientist at IFOS. “If the grating is compressed, there’s a proportional blue change.” Likewise, a increase in temperature triggers pink change, although a drop sales opportunities to blue change. The IFOS interrogator can detect modifications in wavelength on the purchase of picometers to femtometers, the infinitesimal unit utilised to evaluate atoms, which it employs to determine strain or temperature modify.
With a sequence of fibers attached to or embedded in a surface area, each individual with several fiber Bragg grating sensors together its length, the interrogator can keep track of strain and temperature throughout the entire surface area, a capability that has a multitude of achievable apps throughout many fields (Spinoff 2002).
For Robonaut’s hand, the firm proposed that its technological innovation could determine the placement of each individual finger in actual time by measuring the strain that will come with bending, and if it took readings quickly enough, it could even detect vibrations and textures.
“I was kind of dubious that it would function for our software, but I was intrigued,” says Martin. “It supplied many of the rewards of strain gauges with out some of the negatives, like exterior electrical sounds and interference. With several gratings per fiber, the density of sensors that could healthy into a modest space was also a additionally.” Johnson granted the firm an SBIR agreement to examine the concept’s feasibility. To keep away from rebuilding the palms, NASA requested for a glove that healthy about the existing palms.
At the time, IFOS was however making use of substantially the same interrogator it experienced produced for Langley, supporting no far more than ten sensors. To outfit an entire hand requiring many far more sensors, nevertheless, the firm produced a fundamental modify by establishing a scalable architecture that created an enduring improvement in its sensing abilities, says Black.
With Johnson funding, the firm took an optical chip thought produced for telecommunications apps, modified it for its massively parallel sensing architecture, and worked with a foundry to personalize a photonic spectral processor—a single chip with many waveguides stamped into it. The processor functions like a prism, sending various parts of the spectrum to various photodetectors in an array. The interrogator monitors modifications in the ratios of various spectral components at the same time to allow precise determination of the sensor wavelengths.
The ability to keep track of numerous sensors at the same time allows for substantially quicker readings, which is significant for detecting, for instance, the very small, speedy vibrations prompted by friction with a textured surface area.
The glove did not function nicely due to misfires prompted by wrinkles and other concerns, says Martin. Under a Section II SBIR agreement, having said that, IFOS and the Mechanical Engineering Section at Stanford University produced their personal finger prototype. “We analyzed it and confirmed the experiments the firm experienced operate demonstrating it worked,” Martin says. At the time, each the finger prototype and the interrogator had been too significant to include into a human-sized hand.
That was as far as the venture went, but somebody from the Johnson crew pushed Behzad Moslehi, the company’s main government and main technological innovation officer, to pursue funding for achievable healthcare apps via the Countrywide Institutes of Overall health (NIH), he says. “I seemed into it, and I observed it was the correct household.”
IFOS has since observed a multitude of achievable healthcare apps for its fiber-sensing technological innovation.
Soon immediately after the Robonaut venture, as the firm was discovering healthcare apps, Intuitive Surgical Inc. obtained a single of IFOS’ fiber-optic sensor methods to look into its use on dexterous surgical robots. A number of a long time afterwards, IFOS created several instrumented grasper assemblies with haptic sensing for a healthcare software Samsung was evaluating. Moslehi says he sees the healthcare robot sector as an prospect for the company’s long term, via strategic partnerships with other organizations.
Closer to commercialization are instrumented biopsy needles that surgeons can use in conjunction with each MRI and ultrasound machines. Stanford has been collaborating with IFOS via its engineering and healthcare faculties to evaluate and examination the technological innovation on animals in the MRI natural environment.
Instruments utilised in actual-time MRI-guided surgery—where the surgeon is possibly reaching into the MRI machine or doing work remotely from a handle room—must not respond to magnets or use electrical power, Black says. “Optical-fiber sensors are suitable for the sort of sensing we’re doing.” But such a needle is practically invisible in the MRI graphic.
“We came up with a way to evaluate the condition of a biopsy needle in actual time, down to the tip of the needle, and superimpose the precise condition about the blurry artifacts from an MRI,” he says. This allows surgeons see what they’re doing.
The instrument can also evaluate forces on the tip, which relate to tissue hardness. This provides a further clue for surgeons, as tumors are normally harder than the bordering tissue. The crew is doing work on giving haptic comments, such as a joystick for distant surgery that vibrates in accordance to strain on the needle.
A catheter for sucking up fluids for the duration of surgery would function substantially the same way.
The firm has successfully analyzed the technological innovation on pigs but has yet to go via scientific trials and Food and drug administration approval, so the operating place is however a means off. IFOS is also doing work with Civco Medical Answers to build needles with optical fiber sensing.
In the meantime, at the University of Calgary, a further crew is doing work on a equivalent device for MRI-guided neurosurgery, recognized as NeuroArm. IFOS bought the crew an interrogator and outfitted a pair of surgical forceps with its fiber-optic sensors.
Rest facilities at Stanford and at the University of California, Los Angeles, are collaborating with IFOS on a device to keep track of slumber apnea with a actual-time pressure profile of the airway, and the firm has a proposal pending with NIH for equivalent technological innovation to keep track of male incontinence.
In all these apps, fiber-optic sensing allows for a thinner probe or surgical instrument and uniquely substantial-resolution, multi-dimensional mapping.
In a further venture, the firm is constructing on its robotic-hand expertise to function with the NIH and George Mason University to build a robotic prosthetic hand that combines IFOS’ fiber-optic sensors with ultrasonic imaging technological innovation that senses the activation of finger-distinct muscles in the forearm. This allows the person handle the fingers with substantial precision.
Additional-current NASA function will also probable guide to industrial apps in drugs and over and above. Under current Smaller Small business Engineering Transfer (STTR) funding from Goddard House Flight Heart and Johnson, IFOS and Stanford are collaboratively establishing specialised photonic integrated circuits (Pics), in this scenario for a “lab-on-a-chip” device to keep track of concentrations of biochemicals such as protein and creatinine in animals and humans, such as astronauts. The technological innovation is equivalent to digital integrated circuits, with a light source and various optical instruments densely interconnected within just a chip smaller sized than a fingernail.
“It’s like a miniaturized, specialised photonic computing device or sign processor,” says Moslehi. “And it will work at the pace of light.”
IFOS is by now doing work with several PIC foundries to fabricate the optical chips, which could obtain a multitude of employs.
Black notes that, although the interrogator utilised in the Robonaut function was desktop-sized, the a single now getting utilised for surgical products is half the sizing of a shoebox. The firm is doing work to minimize that to the sizing of a smartphone.
In the early days, says William Rate, IFOS’ strategic plans manager, “the value to create a substantial-functionality interrogator was a significant limiting aspect, but IFOS is continuously doing work to minimize prices.” IFOS a short while ago done beta testing and will soon launch a spouse and children of interrogators priced less than $ten,000, a portion of the value of its initial interrogators, he says, noting that he expects these new items to open up new apps for fiber-optic sensing over and above the healthcare industries. They will enhance IFOS’ other substantial-functionality interrogators for acoustic and vibration measurements.
Moslehi says NASA in certain, as nicely as other Federal organizations, has been instrumental in giving the funding required to build the company’s technological innovation innovations into items since the commencing. “Certainly, in the early days when IFOS was however operate out of a garage in Silicon Valley, NASA funding was what helped us take off and build this technological innovation,” he says.
Numerous of the assignments since then, meant for use in spaceflight, rocket testing, atmospheric reentry, and other intense environments, have retained that technological innovation robust, trusted, and reducing-edge.
To study far more about other technologies you use in day to day existence that originated with NASA, be sure to pay a visit to Spinoff.