Empa steers drones from the wrist

Dübendorf ZH – An Empa sensor made of piezo-resistive fibres converts slight wrist movements into electric signals, making it possible to steer drones or other electronic devices without a remote control.

Just as robots can be moved with a simple point of the finger, a new piezo-resistive sensor from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) responds to the slightest wrist movement to steer drones. Until now, movements were recorded primarily using cameras, accelerometers and gyroscopes, but these required “large, clear movements with a particular speed range that are, by and large, unnatural for humans”, according to an Empa statement

The new sensor can be integrated into conventional wristwatch straps or even decorative bracelets, allowing it to be worn discretely on the wrist. But it took some effort to reach this stage, explains Empa. In a first step, researchers headed by Frank Clemens from the Laboratory for High-Performance Ceramics had to find a way to attach the piezo-resistive fibres to a piece of fabric – and even this was not enough to use the sensor on the desired scale. 

“With the aid of additive manufacturing, we managed to integrate the sensor structure in non-textile materials,” said Clemens. The algorithm that ’translates’ between sensor and drone control is currently being optimised as part of a Bachelor’s project at the Bern University of Applied Sciences

Even wearing the sensor in a wristband could one day become a thing of the past. A student at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich is examining how to integrate the piezo-resistive sensor into a plaster.

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