Energy self sufficient touch-interfaces with PyzoFlex®-technology
An Austrian consortium consisting of the KEBA AG, the Media Interaction Lab at the University of Applied Sciences in Upper Austria and JOANNEUM RESEARCH developed an energy-autonomous, force-sensitive touchscreen interface for mobile machine operation.
It still sounds like science fiction: the intuitive control of industrial robots by use of elegant and reliable, pressure-sensitive touchscreen interfaces rather than knobs, buttons and switches. In the project "ECO-touch" funded by the FFG, this vision is realized. Touch-sensitive film elements are integrated into the surfaces of mobile operating units belonging to the company KEBA AG. With these printable large-area sensors, based PyzoFlex® technology developed at JOANNEUM RESEARCH, touch is converted into electrical energy due to the piezoelectric effect, localized on the surface of the units and the pressure of the contact is quantified. Thanks to the use of screen printing, such sensors can be fabricated on flexible surfaces in a very inexpensive way.
The technology behind PyzoFlex® sensors
Wherever pressure / temperature changes, vibrations and shock waves occur, piezoelectric and pyroelectric generators can be used to convert the mechanical deformation (changes in thickness) and temperature differences, respectively, into electrical energy. Ferroelectric polymers belonging to the PVDF-Class (polyvinylidene fluoride) are used as a basic material because, after electrical poling, they demonstrate strong piezoelectric and pyroelectric activity. They are also extremely stable, UV and weather resistant, flame-retardant and have a high chemical durability. The sensors can accurately detect pressure differences between 30 grams and 1 kilogram. Depending on the electronics and the number of sensors used, these can be triggered up to 100 times per second, making faster response times and fluid interactions possible.
JOANNEUM RESEARCH mbH develops solutions and technology for business and industry in a wide range of sectors. Some 455 employees with the company pursue advanced research on an international level in Graz, Vienna, Weiz, Hartberg, Niklasdorf and Leoben. Using sophisticated, evidence-based miniaturization, integration and material optimization technologies and processes, the MATERIALS Institute provides interdisciplinary solutions that can be implemented along the entire value chain. These include large-scale micro-and nanostructures, biological and chemical sensors, light technology, functionalized surfaces or laser processes.
The Media Interaction Lab is one of Austria's leading research laboratories in the area of "Human-Machine-Interfaces". The research focuses on interface and interaction design as well as the evaluation of applications in the field of interactive multi-user surfaces. By using the latest input technologies (such as digital pens, touchscreens or motion detection), the most innovative and best operating concepts are developed for each task.
Founded in 1968 in Linz, today KEBA is an international company that attributes its success to its technological innovation, highest quality standards and dynamism and enthusiasm of its employees. KEBA is constantly working in several business areas on new developments and industry-specific solutions in order to provide its customers with sustainable competitive advantages. In the area of industrial automation control and operation, complex automation systems are the focus, but controls for biomass heating systems, automated teller machines, electric vehicle rechargers, logistics systems and much more are delivered to international customers.
"The range of applications for such sensors that, thanks to their flexibility, can be shaped and integrated into three-dimensional surfaces seems to be unlimited from current perspectives. PyzoFlex® sensors could be used in all areas of daily life and industrial environments to make surfaces interactive. Particularly in the areas of consumer electronics (intuitive human-machine interfaces), security (job safety, 360° motion detection, biometrics), user-oriented, efficient housing technologies, robotics (artificial skin), the life sciences (large-scale, medical diagnostics) and the automotive industries (energy harvesting), these are considered interesting,” explained Dr. Barbara Mag Stadlober, head of the research group Micro-and Nanostructuring.
"The challenge during the development of the film was, on the one hand, to include robust tracking features and, on the other hand, to use new (suitable and intuitive) interactive methods," stated Dr. Michael Haller, head of the Media Interaction Lab at the University of Applied Sciences in Upper Austria.
For Peter Kögl, Project and Innovation Manager of the Industrial Automation unit at KEBA, customer value and practical applicability are priorities: "Effortless and reliable operation as well as maximum energy efficiency are surely important key factors for the next generation of intelligent products. During the first steps, operating concepts with PyzoFlex® can already be easily upgraded. The potential for the technology to promote the development of brand-new interface designs, in which the interaction capability is directly related to the intuitive and ergonomic design of the product, is high. For KEBA, it is extremely important to meet the high expectations of customers in terms of product reliability and robustness."
This project is supported by funds from the Climate and Energy Fund and carried out under the "NEW ENERGY 2020 Programme".