・January 7-10, 2020
・Sands EXPO Hall A-D（Fitness & Technology）in Las Vegas Nevada, USA
Toyoda Gosei will show a novel material it has developed called e-Rubber, a next-generation rubber that moves with electricity. e-Rubber can function both as a soft, flexible and sensitive sensor and as an actuator capable of gentle, human-like movements. Its use in haptics devices can provide a more realistic experience by adding the sense of touch to images (sight) and sound (hearing) in augmented reality (AR), which is expected to grow in use with the spread of 5G wireless technology.
“Venture into New Innovation, New Mobility” is one of the key pillars in Toyoda Gosei’s medium and long-term business plan (2025 Business Plan). The company is focusing efforts on the development of e-Rubber and other new technologies, taking advantage of the knowledge it has cultivated in rubber, plastics and other fields for its automotive components and LED businesses.
Taking advantage of the strengths of e-Rubber as both an actuator and a sensor, e-Rubber devices can simulate the tactile sensations felt when a person touches an object. Users will experience life-like tactile sensations such as softness of objects drawn by computer graphics.
e-Rubber is a novel rubber material that can function either as an actuator in response to electrical stimuli, or as a sensor in response to mechanical force. Its basic structure is a thin dielectric elastomer film sandwiched between two electrodes.
Actuator (motive power source)
Has ability to transform electricity into
Example of use in commercial product
● Lightweight(similar in weight to human body)
● Silent(moves without sound)
● Displacement amount(large displacement)
● Responsiveness(moves quickly)
● Softness(gentle movement)
● Low energy use(does not generate heat)
Has ability to convert mechanical force into electricity
Example as pressure sensor
● Thin ● Lightweight ● Soft ● Wide sensing range
● Minute load sensor ● Tough
Slide-ring materials are characterized by freely-movable cross-links on chains in polymer networks. In conventional polymeric materials with fixed cross-links, the inhomogeneous distribution of cross-links in the polymer network means that when the material is stretched or pulled tension is concentrated on shorter chains, which then tend to break. With freely movable cross-links, the movement of the cross-links allows the tension to become more homogeneous.
This is achieved with a polyrotaxane architecture, consisting of linear polymers (polyethyleneglycol) with cyclic molecules (cyclodextrin) around them like beads on a string and stopper molecules (adamantane) at each end. The rings form double-loop cross links with rings on other polymer chains, which then act like pulleys on which the polymer strands move to homogenize the structure. Extra length between the final cross-links and stoppers on the ends of the chains also provide room for extra movement. Slide-ring materials also show excellent restoration properties.
Conventional molecular structure
• This is the first application using e-Rubber. It is a off-pump bypass surgery training simulator.
• Bypass surgery was conventionally done with the heart stopped, but in recent years surgery with the heart still moving (“off pump”) has become prevalent in Japan. This has led to improved patient outcomes.
• However, surgery with the heart still beating is very difficult, and surgeons need to practice.
• This device is the current machine that EBM, our co-developer, is already selling.
The aim is to standardize surgical techniques together with famous heart surgeons.
• The new SupeR BEAT was launched in Japan in October of this year.
• Its characteristics are shown on a separate page.
◆ Heart rate setting: 60–300 bpm
◆ Movement program settings: Up to 100 patterns can be input
◆ Individual suture training with reproduction of stressful movements
• Timer setting
(fibrillation occurs when time is up)
• Training with child’s heartbeat
• Adaptability to unexpected movements with random programming
◆ Team role playing of how to respond when conditions change
• Response when signal waveforms occur
• Response manual for each primary doctor
• Communication between surgeon and assistant
Haptics technology is a promising technical field for skin sensory feedback in areas such as medicine, virtual reality, robotics, and travel. Along with vision and hearing, the sense of touch is important in daily life. As we enter the age of 5G, we are sure to see a dramatic increase in the amount of data that can be transmitted. This will allow the use of haptics technology that conveys the human sense of touch, which holds huge potential.
e-Rubber is an unprecedented haptics device that takes advantage of the features of low frequency and softness. Devices that are stiff and have vigorous or forceful output exist, but their stiffness makes life-like reproduction of soft or gentle movement difficult. A breakthrough to advance beyond this is needed.
The first feature of e-Rubber, low frequency, may be considered the difference between stiffness and flexible softness. When a material is stiff, vibration is achieved with short, large waves (high frequency). Flexible softness is achieved with small, gentle waves (low frequency). With low frequency waves, there are not many options for devices that provide drive, but the second feature, softness, makes continuous, smooth expression possible.
Thus, low frequency devices may be considered suitable for expressing the softness, smoothness, and warmth of things like humans and animals, and conveying vibrations or touch sensations such as smoothness, coarseness, and sleekness.
Another feature of e-Rubber is that since it is very thin, it may be attached comfortably to the skin and would not interfere with regular daily living activities.
It cannot produce a force as strong as that of current electric, pneumatic, or hydraulic actuators, but when power is needed it can be achieved by layering several hundred of these thin rubber sheets. Please take a look at the booth over there.
These shoes are equipped with soft rubber sensors that detect the amount of deformation in the sole of the foot. The characteristic softness of e-Rubber enables it flexibly detect deformation pressure in the sole of the foot. The system measures ground contact information of the sole, balance, and other factors chronologically, from which the gait characteristics of the individual are analyzed. This analysis is used to detect the status of the individual, such as the effects of disease or frailty. In the future we will increase the amount of learning data with the aim of developing a product that monitors precursory indications of various diseases or frailty.
Center of pressure (COP) has conventionally been measured with expensive pressure sensor plates called force plates (about 50 plates) that covered the entire floor, and they could be used only in that limited space. With e-Rubber insole shoes, the shoe itself can detect pressure. Thus, they are promising for use without space restrictions in various sports.
If AI technology is also used, the obtained pressure information can be used to determine gait feature values and status (motor disorders, etc.). As societies age, the need to detect the status of motor disorders or frailty is expected to increase. e-Rubber insoles and similar applications will be able to respond to such social needs.
With e-Rubber sensors attached on their fingers, these robot hands possess “senses of touch” and can perform work in a more human-like way with their capability to sense shapes and softness of the objects, a capability that conventional robots have lacked. Highly accurate e-Rubber sensors enables just one hand to handle various objects, whether they are heavy, light (less than 100 grams), or soft.
Aging societies with fewer children are rapidly expanding in many advanced countries, and one of the serious social issues is labor shortages in manufacturing, service, social-welfare and many other fields.
Robots that performs work on behalf of human are highly expected.
Toyoda Gosei is collaborating with QBIT Robotics, a startup that develops systems centered on collaborative robots that work together with humans for use in the service industry, including food service and entertainment. The two companies aim to spread the use of practical robots that can support aging societies with fewer children.