Sensors that Can Detect Rotation Now Available in 3D Printing Format

Sensors that Can Detect Rotation Now Available in 3D Printing Format

The use of 3D printing is crucial for quickly creating models of mechanical parts, but it is not very useful for electronic systems. Usually, if a prototype requires electronic features, designers add pre-made components after printing the mechanical parts. However, what if some electronic features could be included through 3D printing? This would speed up the development process, reduce costs, and allow for more design possibilities. Therefore, a group of engineers at MIT created a fresh approach to 3D printing sensors that can recognize the movement of mechanical joints, including their rotation angle, speed and direction.

The sensors used in this technology work by using capacitance, which refers to the ability of a material to store an electric charge. A regular capacitor is made up of two conductive materials that are separated by an insulator. Capacitive sensing is frequently used for touch detection, as the capacitance of a circuit can be affected by a person's finger. This type of sensing is commonly found in touchscreens and other touch sensors. If you've had the chance to use a device with highly sensitive touch sensors, you may have noticed that they react even before you actually touch them. This is because physical contact isn't always necessary to alter capacitance. In this new technology, these 3D-printable sensors are built around that principle.

To create one of these sensors, you'll need a 3D printing machine that can expel two or more elements. The initial element must act as an insulator like PLA, ABS, and other usual forms of filaments. You'll then require a second material that is conductive. Although they're a rarity, some consumer markets carry conductive filament substances.

While there is a fair amount of freedom in the design, the fundamental structure of the sensor includes a base plate equipped with three capacitive sensing pads crafted with a conductive filament. This base plate interfaces with a rotating piece which boasts a single patch of conductive material that remains unconnected to the circuit at all times. The pads found on the base plate attach to either a capacitive sensing board or the analog input pins of a microcontroller. Even though the conductive patch on the rotating plate does not need to make physical contact with the base plate pads, its mere presence in close proximity will alter the capacitance of the base plate pads.

After that, everything is handled by the software. The software is able to figure out the position of the rotating part by keeping an eye on the relative capacitance of every single one of the three pads. When a time element is thrown in the mix, the software can keep track of both the speed and direction of the rotation.

These types of 3D-printed sensors could be exceptionally valuable for regulating knobs and precisely calculating the angles of mechanical joints, such as those within a robot's limb. By embedding them straight into 3D-printed mechanical components, designers can streamline their blueprints and diminish the quantity of individual parts needed.

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