Soft robots made from soft materials can closely emulate biological system using simple soft mechanical structures. Compared with traditional rigid-link robots, they are safe to work with humans and can adapt to confined environments. As a result, they are widely used for various robotic locomotions and manipulations. Nevertheless, for soft robots, being able to sense its state to enable closed-loop control using soft sensors remains a challenge. Existing sensors include external sensors such as camera systems, electromagnetic tracking systems, and internal sensors such as optical fibers, conductive liquid, and carbon black filled strips.
In this paper, we investigate a new soft sensor made from low-cost conductive nylon sewing threads. By continuously inserting twists into a thread under some weight, coils can be formed to enable a coiled soft sensor. The resistance of the sensor varies with the change of length. The fabrication and experiments for this new coiled sensor is described in this paper. Embedding this sensor to a 3D printed soft manipulator demonstrates the sensing capability. Compared to existing soft sensors, the coiled sensor is low-cost, easy to fabricate, and can also be used as an actuator. It can be embedded to any soft robot to measure the deformation for closed-loop feedback control.