PhD Thesis Proposal: Ian Trase

Friday, August 16, 2019, 11:30am–1:30pm

Rm 202, Cummings Hall

“Flexible Thin-Film Transducers for Wearable Haptics”


Wearable haptic devices, which can relay touch-based signals to and from the skin, are becoming increasingly common in consumer and industrial marketplaces and have the potential to deliver highly relevant information to their users. Human skin is an underutilized sensory channel and could be used as complementary method to sight and hearing for information transmission. Current haptic actuators are often bulky, power hungry, and produce only simple vibration, limiting the usefulness of haptic wearables. There is an unmet need for low-profile, flexible, efficient actuators capable of more than just vibration.

This thesis proposes to design, build, and test a flexible electrostatic actuator to solve these unmet needs. Borrowing innovations from materials science, thin-film research, and microelectromechanical systems design, a new transducer capable of both actuation and sensing on the skin was developed. The transducer consists of a pair of buckled thin films that predictably change shape when a voltage is applied across them. As the transducer changes shape, these changes are recorded as a change in capacitance, making the device a high-fidelity displacement sensor as well.

The design and theory of the flexible electrostatic actuator will be explored, as well as simulations, tabletop experiments, and user studies. Application-driven modifications to the transducer, such as miniaturization, tessellation, and electronic control will be discussed. New motion modalities, such as shear or static pressure, will be explored as enhancements to the device. Finally, a comprehensive set of user studies will be performed to calibrate and validate the final device.

Thesis Committee

For more information, contact Daryl Laware at