Postdoc: Tactile Biomechanics and Neuroscience: How Do Humans Feel Friction? (2 years, temporary)

Background: Prosthetic and robotic hands demonstrate poor dexterity during object manipulation, often dropping objects. Humans rarely allow objects to slip because we can sense if an object is slippery and adjust our grip. In recent years, while we have learned more about the biomechanics and neuroscience underpinning our ability to sense friction, there is still much to learn. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how poorly we understand human friction sensing, very little research has been directed at replicating this ability to sense friction or slipperiness in artificial sensors. This research program has three work packages: (WP1) To advance our understanding of how humans sense friction; (WP2) To demonstrate, using a number of friction-based tactile sensor prototypes currently under development by our research groups in Dublin and Sydney, that friction sensing leads to improved dexterity in robotic manipulation; (WP3) To use advanced design, manufacturing, and instrumentation methods to miniaturise the proposed sensors to a scale similar to a human finger pad. The outcomes of this research, which would endow artificial hands with the ability to feel the slipperiness and/or impending loss of grip of a grasped object, could significantly advance the fields of prosthetics, telesurgery, and service, agricultural, and manufacturing robotics.

Position description: The employee will contribute to WP1 of the program, studying the biomechanics and neurophysiology of human touch as it relates to sensation of friction. Duties include:

  • Run experiments to study the biomechanical behaviour of our finger pad skin when subjected to varying normal and shearing (tangential) forces to understand what mechanisms may allow use to sense the friction of objects we touch;
  • Contribute to microneurography experiments, acquiring tactile afferent signals from the median nerve in humans at the level of the wrist, to study how tactile afferents respond to friction-related biomechanical events on the finger pad when gripping objects;
  • Clean (filtering, spike sorting) and analyse (regression through to multivariate machine learning) of ensembles of neurological data to correlate neurological signals with biomechanical events.

Supervision and research environment: The Research Assistant will report to A/Prof Stephen Redmond (School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, UCD https://people.ucd.ie/stephen.redmond).

Salary: €37,223 per annum. The duration of the appointment is two years (temporary). The project is funded by Science Foundation Ireland’s President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award, held by A/Prof Redmond. Both tactile sensor design work packages are also partly supported by US Office of Naval Research Global funding held by A/Prof Redmond and Dr Heba Khamis at UNSW (Sydney, Australia).

How to apply: Visit https://www.ucd.ie/workatucd/jobs/  -> “External Applicants” -> “Search by Reference Number”… Use job reference number: 011538