Ravinder Dahiya on ‘animating the inanimate’

TEDxGlasgow speaks to the innovators and game changers behind this year’s talks. We explore what makes them tick and what drove them to apply to speak on the famous TEDxGlasgow stage. Dr Ravinder Dahiya is a Reader and EPSRC Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow.

Ravinder Dahiya

Can you explain electronic skin in under 200 words?

By electronic skin I mean a set of sensors to measure multiple parameters, and the electronics needed to obtain data from them, integrated on soft surfaces which can bend, stretch and conform to arbitrary shapes. The parameters to be measured (and hence the type of sensor) depend on the application. For example, in the case of robots and prosthetic limbs the goal is human-like feelings and hence parameters of interest for skin are – pressure, temperature and slip, etc. However, the same electronic skin concept could also be applied to other applications such as for real time monitoring of chronic diseases. In this case the e-skin is like a second-skin, which could measure in real-time the chemical composition of sweat or tears, for example, and then trigger an alarm when the chemical composition starts to deviate from normal.

Describe your day to day role at the BEST group at University of Glasgow.

I am the leader of Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group, which currently has about 20 outstanding multidisciplinary researchers working on various topics around e-skin. On a daily basis, I carry out my own research, help group members when they are stuck and facilitate healthy brainstorming sessions, which often result in critical solution and new directions. Besides BEST group I am also the Director of Electronics Design Centre (EDC) in the school of engineering. The EDC has state of the art design and characterisation tools needed before and after fabrication of various e-skin components in James Watt Nano-fabrication Centre (JWNC).

Can you give an example of how electronic skin can disrupt the world we live in today?

I see numerous ways of disruption as a result of our e-skin research. To begin with the disruption would be seen within the core electronics technology, which is fast evolving as a result of the e-skin requirements. The current silicon based electronics technology is suitable for obtaining electronics on planar and stiff surfaces only. While this has worked (and revolutionised our lives through fast communication and computation we see today) for last 5 decades, this is insufficient for future electronics, which will be bendable, stretchable, soft, and conformable. Furthermore, the electronics in future will be printed on large areas (larger than possible with today’s electronics technology). In terms of applications the disruption will be seen in the form of many new exciting applications, which will emerge because of new form of electronics.

Your TEDx talk is entitled ‘animating the inanimate world’; why would we want to do this?

Animating the inanimate world will bring positive changes in multiple ways. With technology evolving faster than ever we need to do this and I think we have the capability as well. Considering real facts such as changes in demography – With rising percentage of elderly, especially in western countries, there will be need for assistive technology to maintain or improve the quality of life. Animating the assistive tools, including robots and exoskeletons will enable safer interaction while helping them lift heavy objects such as grocery bag. Nowadays, we also talk about the internet of things and smart cities. I see animating the inanimate as an important component of these emerging concepts, as objects could be talking to each other by sharing ambient data. Another example is that of industrial setting such as a car manufacturing unit where robots work in cages and no-human is allowed access due to the potential hazard. Animating these machines with skin means we can raise the safety levels (safer even if someone enters robot’s space by mistake) and enable the next generation of automation, where human and robots work together.

What does the word ‘disruption’ mean to you and why?

To me disruption means improving lives and bringing positive changes by developing new technologies and, perhaps, by exploiting old technologies in new ways. It is not just about creating new markets but it is about creating new markets by foreseeing future needs.

Why did you decide to step up and do a TEDx talk?

TEDx is a great platform to share my story with people and to stimulate a healthy discussion. I think it is important to reach out to the public and tell them about our exciting research and its world of potential for the future. TEDx provides an excellent and dynamic forum for this. It brings together decision-makers, doers, thinkers and influencers. Furthermore, the TEDx talks are open to public which facilitates a sustained dialogue.

What are your three top TED talks of all time and why?

New Bionics Let Us Run, Climb and Dance | Hugh Herr
I like this talk as it shows how technology could be used to overcome permanent disabilities.

How to Control Someone Else’s Arm with Your Brain | Greg Gage ‬
This talk is intriguing to see how our brain controls our actions as well as that of others. ‬

Unveiling the genius of multi-touch interface design | Jeff Han

This was among the first TED talks I ever saw, a long time ago. The talk presents an impressive work on multi-touch sensing (it was new then) and connect with my own research as the skin I am developing could simultaneously detect multiple contact points.

Updated July 2016: You can now enjoy Dr Ravinder Dahiya’s talk in full below and on YouTube:

  • Written by Cat Leaver
  • Posted on May, 19 2016

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