Final Report Summary - CONTEST (Collaborative Network for Training in Electronic Skin Technology)
The network provided a unique research training opportunity to young researchers in the novel and multidisciplinary field of flexible and large area electronics and sensing – a burgeoning area of research that offers strategic training opportunities with exceptional prospects for career development (in academia and industry) and a potential of dramatic impact on the well-being of our ageing western societies.
The mission of CONTEST was to train a pool of young researchers in the design, fabrication, characterization and utilization of flexible and multifunctional electronic system such as electronic or smart skin (e-skin). To this end, CONTEST brought together world-leading experts with key complementary skills in a multidisciplinary scientific consortium. CONTEST provided 16 ESRs (Early Stage Researchers) and 4 ERs (Experienced Researcher) with 478 person-months of unparalleled research training opportunities, supplemented with formal training courses in the relevant fields and a wide variety of complementary training courses, colloquia and seminars. The researchers had access to state-of-the-art equipment and the scientific training was carried out through well-defined work-packages (WP), covering key aspects of large area flexible electronic systems and acting as building blocks for obtaining e-skin.
The scientific training objectives of CONTEST project were:
• To train young researchers in inter/multi-disciplinary, inter-sector and newly emerging supra-disciplinary fields such as nanotechnology, flexible silicon, flexible and stretchable interconnects using materials such as graphene and related derivatives, carbon nanotubes (CNTs), and poly(3,4-ethylene dioxythiophene) doped with poly(styrene sulfonate), (PEDOT:PSS), as well as touch sensing based cognitive robotics for industry and services.
• To develop multifunctional components such as sensors, displays & electronics on flexible substrates and integrating these multifunctional components to obtain bendable and stretchable e-skin system. This included developing strategies for integration of stretchable and conformable electronics onto plastic flexible substrates.
• To utilize e-skins to advance robotics research (e.g. to provide sensing necessary for cognition – both world understanding and interaction), and human-environment interfaces (e.g. to better understand human behavior and provide new opportunities for interaction with environment).
• To facilitate smooth transition of innovation to industry through direct involvement of stakeholders in all the elements of the chain from academic institutes and research centres to companies.
The S&T objectives were achieved through 5 workpackages (WPs). The research training topics were divided among four themes which defined the WPs (each involving two or more partners). The flexible electronic devices and circuits in WP1 were developed at FBK, TUM and ST, which are well equipped to produce Si and Organic Semiconductors (OS) based electronic components respectively. The research outcome of WP1 was useful in terms of reading the data from sensors and other components, which were developed in WP2. The multifunctional components (sensors etc. in WP2) of e-skin developed using Si, OS, and blends of polymers and inorganic nanoparticles using advanced infrastructure and expertise of UCL, FBK, UoG and ST. The system integration, interconnections and packaging covered in WP3 were important for taking the research from component level to the system level. In this direction, the contribution of Fraunhofer, UCL, UoG and ST was an important one. New integration techniques and new approaches such as stretchable interconnect were investigated. The network activities on modelling and characterizing the electronic devices and circuits (WP1) were supported by TUM. Fraunhofer also considered the manufacturability and reliability issues. Assessment of e-skin in the other sectors where they are important (and missing) tools to advance the research is important. In this context, the expertise of Imperial, TUM and Shadow in human-environment interfaces, and robotics was extremely useful. This yielded a unique opportunity in WP4 to analyze, improve and optimize the technological approach for obtaining e-skin. This also allowed us to bridge the gap between innovations and products. The young researchers from CONTEST network were therefore exposed to an array of different specialists, through close collaboration among partners, other research institutes and high-tech industry. The research training focused on devices, circuits, materials, fabrication technologies, system integration, nanotechnology, sensors, actuators, modelling, robotics, and human-environment interface. The hands-on, project-driven learning and in-house training schemes was supplemented by the secondment stages with other partners and associated partners. Throughout the project the young researchers were encouraged to interact with collaborators from different disciplines (and locations), which helped us forge a strong professional interaction. This was needed to maintain the EU scientific and technical competitiveness for the years to come. The work packages yielded the following scientific achievements:
1. Work Package 1 developed the project website which was regularly updated. The welcome kit was provided the all researchers by their hosting institutions. CONTEST bylaws were circulated to all partners and attempts were made to finalize the consortium agreement, even if this is not mandatory in the case of ITN projects. The change in beneficiaries (e.g. UoG was added as new beneficiary and ST’s status was changed from beneficiary to associated partner) delayed the signing of consortium agreement. But overall there was no major issue to be reported in terms of management and coordination. Various reports were regularly sent to EC through online report submission portal. Mobility was also supported through external means. Steering Committee met every 6 months (after progress meetings) and therefore progress was regularly monitored. The management of project followed good practices as per European code of ethics for researchers.
2. Work Package 2 explored the research methodologies related to devices and circuits on flexible substrates. Both organic and inorganic semiconductor materials were investigated for this purpose. Also, the modelling and simulation work related to flexible electronic devices was carried out in this work package. The ESRs from the work package published excellent papers (see list of publications) and won the best paper award in IEEE conferences.
3. Work package 3 investigated sensors over flexible substrates using both organic and inorganic semiconducting materials. The two projects in this work package started later than scheduled date because due to internal restructuring ST decided to change status for beneficiary to associated partner. Nonetheless, our plans for training and research were not affected as the ESRs were still able to join PhD at UoG and in fact UoG’s supported through its internal means the additional about one year of these ESRs (which happens to be after the project duration). ST continued to provide training through secondment stages at their fabrication centre in Catania, Italy. ST also continued to co-supervise PhDs of these ESRs.
4. Work package 4 investigated various strategies for integrating sensors and electronic components on flexible substrates. The manufacturability and reliability issues were also explored in this work package. Given the nature of integration work, this work package also led to joint publication with multiple institutions within the consortium. In fact, multi-institution publications were explored in all work packages.
5. Work package 5 explored the application of e-skin in robotic and human-environment interfaces. New areas explored in this work packages included pain in robotics – thus far focus in robotic has been on measurement of parameters such as pressure and temperature. The new application of e-skin to measure pain was an innovative development. The publication from these new works are included in the list of publications. This work also led to some public engagement activities at Imperial College London.
6. Work package 6 was dedicated for training and dissemination activities, which were executed through a wide range of initiatives (organisation of Summer Schools, Workshops and special sessions at international conferences).
Additional information available at CONTEST project website: www.contest-itn.eu.