A Soft Material Flow Sensor for Micro Air Vehicles

Johan Sundin, Katherine Kokmanian, Matthew K. Fu, Shervin Bagheri, Marcus Hultmark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


To control and navigate micro air vehicles (MAVs) efficiently, there is a need for small, lightweight, durable, sensitive, fast, and low-power airspeed sensors. When designing sensors to meet these requirements, soft materials are promising alternatives to more traditional materials due to the large deformations they can withstand. In this article, a new concept of a soft material flow sensor is presented based on elastic filament velocimetry, which fulfills all necessary criteria. This technique measures flow velocity by relating it to the strain of a soft ribbon suspended between two static supports and subjected to a flow of interest. The ribbon is manufactured from polydimethylsiloxane and can be made piezoresistive by the addition of silver nanowires. With the described manufacturing method, the sensor can be made using common laboratory tools, outside of a clean room, significantly reducing its complexity. Furthermore, it can be operated using a simple and lightweight circuit, making it a convenient alternative for MAVs. Using a piezoresistive material allows for the flow velocity to be calibrated to the resistance change of the strained ribbon. Although certain challenges remain unsolved, such as polymer creep, the sensor has demonstrated its ability to measure flow velocities down to 4 m/s in air through experiments. A time-dependent analytical model is also provided. The model shows that the current sensor has a bandwidth of 480 Hz. Most importantly, the sensitivity and the bandwidth of the sensor can be varied strictly by modifying the geometry and the material properties of the ribbon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-127
Number of pages9
JournalSoft Robotics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Biophysics
  • Control and Systems Engineering


  • PDMS
  • flow measurements
  • micro air vehicles
  • soft sensor
  • stretchable electronics


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