ST Microelectronics has partnered with the BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna to establish a joint lab designed to develop bio-inspired robots and smart systems for advanced medical applications and materials with memory.
Leading global semiconductors specialist ST Microelectronics serves customers across the spectrum of electronics applications while Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa is a world centre of excellence in advanced robotics and one of Italy’s most prestigious universities.
Supporting the expansion of research in biologically-inspired robots with human-like structures and behaviour, ST and the BioRobotics Institute are working to extend their understanding of locomotion principles in sensing, actuation, dynamics and control of various biological systems at a newly opened joint laboratory in Catania, Italy.
ST is pursuing advanced R&D activities in robotics and automation, smart system integration as well as the exploration of new materials and technologies including opto-electronics and electronics on plastic at the lab.
ST and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna have been collaborating for the past five years to develop and promote advanced robotics and ‘smart’ systems based on ST’s leading-edge semiconductor products and technologies.
With logistics, material and equipment supplied by ST in addition to skilled researchers, the new joint lab brings researchers and engineers from Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and ST closer together to explore and develop new concepts and applications in bio-robotics, smart sensors and energy harvesting as well as the application of new materials to expand the scope of today’s microelectronics.
Collaboration in smart systems has led to exploring the capabilities of smart sensors in medical applications, where experts from ST and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna are developing smart toys equipped with motion and pressure sensors for early diagnosis of neuro-developmental delays and autistic pathologies in small children.
While the child plays with the smart toy, the system will constantly monitor the child’s movement and posture as well as how the child grasps or holds the toy. Researchers expect doctors to diagnose neurological abnormalities in children, even before the child is able to speak.
The ST and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna researchers expect to prototype toys with sensors for infants, including clear operating guides for doctors within the next two years in collaboration with medical institutions and a toy manufacturer.
Professor Paolo Dario, Director of the BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna believes that bio-robotics and smart systems will be fundamental to the sustainable development of human society in the 21st century, improving quality of life in all its aspects, from manufacturing and medicine to smart homes and environment protection.
He adds that the joint laboratory will help advance their efforts in creating the next generation of intelligent systems integrating microelectronics, mechanics and computing technologies.
According to Carmelo Papa, Senior Executive Vice President, General Manager of ST’s Industrial & Multisegment Sector, and Chairman of the European Platform on Smart Systems (EPoSS), semiconductor-fuelled innovation plays a key role in the development of robotics and smart systems.
The collaboration will combine ST’s extensive expertise in semiconductor technology and industrial automation with Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna’s globally acclaimed know-how in robotics to accelerate the advancement of new applications and devices that will help enrich and protect people’s lives.
Humanoid robots are next on the list with the experts from ST and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna planning to create soft-bodied robots made of Shape-Memory materials capable of acting and interacting physically, emotionally, socially and safely with humans.
Equipped with all the right ingredients for the creation of these ‘robot companions’, the ST and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna lab aims to participate in the EU Future and Emerging Technologies Programme for the development of companion robots.
In bio-robotics, the joint laboratory will also focus on exploiting the use of new materials in advanced applications, yielding lighter-weight and more resilient robots. These new materials include Shape Memory Alloys, or smart metals, which exhibit unique, muscle-like properties such as pseudo-elasticity and the shape memory effect that can have potentially useful applications in medical equipment and aviation.
The newly established laboratory will take an active role in the smart system efforts and initiatives coordinated by EPoSS. Integration of smart systems aims to address global challenges and opportunities, including health, aging and sustainable mobility by giving intelligent and adaptable functionalities to the user through the use of new materials and technologies, and redefining the interaction between people and technology.
The ST-Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna joint laboratory initiative will enhance and leverage the global network of partnering research centres in the robotics domain that already include among others, the University of Catania, the Italian Institute of Technology, the Humanoid Robotics Institute at the Waseda University in Japan, the Waseda-Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna RoboCasa joint lab, the Korean Institute for Scientific Technologies, the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.