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Award from Nasa for role in creating robot
A TECHNOLOGY firm has proved that its products really are out of this world after winning an award from Nasa for its role in creating the world’s first humanoid robot.
North Yorkshire company Peratech has been presented with a Nasa Tech Brief Award after its ultra-thin, pressuresensing materials, which change resistance when force is applied, were used in the Robonaut’s hands.
The material, called quantum tunneling composite (QTC), was researched and developed by the Richmondbased firm, and has enabled the Robonaut to have fingertip sensitivity and distinguish how hard it was gripping.
The first humanoid robot to be sent into space, it was developed jointly by GM Motors and Nasa as a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans, either in space or in manufacturing plants.
David Lussey, founder and chief technical officer of Peratech, said: “The Robonaut was designed to be deployed in space missions.
“Nasa chose our quantum tunnelling composite technology for the robotic finger sensors as it provided really sensitive feedback – as good as a human hand – and was tough enough to withstand the rigours of space.
“Our QTC sensors enabled the Robonaut to work out how hard it was gripping something and where the fingers were gripping it. The sensors worked so well that Nasa has given us an award.”
QTC material is pressure sensitive and changes its electrical resistance when a force is applied by bringing closer together tiny conductive particles suspended within an insulating material.
This enables a current to flow because electrons leap from one particle to the next using an effect called quantum tunnelling – no physical contact occurs between the particles.
By adjusting the formulation and manufacture of the QTC material, it can be made to specific levels of responsiveness.
As there is no air gap within the sensor, it is not affected by being in the vacuum of space.
The composite material was also carefully selected so that changes in temperature did not cause it to swell and contract which would have created false readings.
The sensors were designed with no start resistance so that without pressure, the sensors draw no power and pass no current, which is important as power is at a premium in space.
“Because our switches are solid state and so robust, we are also supplying to the many other robot projects and major industrial partners for their next generation of products as they are so reliable,”
added Mr Lussey.
“There is nothing to wear out, no air gap to, be contaminated by dust, sand or liquids, so the meantime between failures is much greater – something that Nasa appreciated as service calls in space are expensive.”
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