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Intelligent Materials and Systems Laboratory

Intelligent Materials and Systems Laboratory is an interdisciplinary research group established in 2003 in University of Tartu, Institute of Technology.

Our goal is, by bringing together knowledge from diverse fields of expertise, to develop new materials and their control and applications. Exploitation of innovative materials will in turn permit building devices, different and in many ways superior to conventional machines.

The scientific background of our staff as well as the laboratory equipment permits research activities on the borderline of computational material science, material science, robotics, chemistry, computer science and electronics.

Currently our main research activity is focusing on development and exploitation of ion-conducting polymers and their composites. Ion-conducting polymer composites are a type of electroactive polymers that change their shape and size when electrically stimulated. The behavior of these materials resembles to some extent the behavior of biological muscles and therefore electroactive polymer actuators are often referred to as artificial muscles.


Research areas

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The basic chemical research of polymers focuses on the synthesis characteristics, properties, and long-term stability of conducting polymers, mainly polypyrrole.

The laboratory work deals with chemical and electrochemical synthesis, electrochemical and electro-chemo-mechanical characterization of polypyrrole. Applied research focuses on the fabrication of actuators based on conducting polymers. Our novel approach is to combine chemical and electrochemical synthesis for fabricating soft, metal-free, air-operated actuators with large strains.

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Simulations of the lithium-ion polymer battery take place on two levels: atomic and macroscopic. On the atomic level we use the molecular dynamic method and study the effects of interaction between atoms, the general behaviour and vicinity of the atoms.

For the macroscopic study the method of finite elements is used to design and optimize the lithium-ion polymer battery's structure, work processes and effects in them. A prominent branch of the research focuses on minimizing the battery scale to micro- and nanodimensions.

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EAP in space: generally, the lifetime of ionic EAP-s is reported several millions of working cycles. Is it really that much?

The purpose of this authentic equipment is automatic long-term testing of hundreds of ionic EAP actuators.

One of the goals of this project is to verify if the EAP materials survive the low earth orbit conditions: exposing to the gamma, x-ray or ultraviolet radiation, or freezing to very low temperatures.

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Ionic electroactive polymers (EAP) bend when stimulated with low voltage (only a few volts). At first glance, all ionic EAPs seem similar in construction – two conducting electrodes separated by a polymer membrane, containing freely moving ions – although their actuation mechanisms can be significantly different.

We research different EAP materials from FEM simulation to fabrication and from measurement methodics to applications.

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The goal of the Self-deployable Habitat for Extreme Environments (SHEE) is to develop a robotically-deployable habitat design. The SHEE type of habitat will provide significant background for further development and evolution of extra-terrestrial habitable structures, as well as a methodology and results that can be translated into terrestial conditions and to achieving a more efficient, high-tech sector on earth. SHEE adresses three key technology developments for planetary exploration:

• developing a hybrid structure system for a self-deployable, autonomous habitat;
• innovative way of habitat design integrating robotics into architecture;
• integration of ECLSS systems and infrastructure into the functional prototype.

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Fits.me is a virtual fitting room for online clothing retailers utilizing robot mannequines.

This technology allows the robot to adjust and conform to hundreds of thousands of body shapes, allowing the shopper to visualize how the specific garment will look on her. This approach solves the single biggest problem for online fashion retail – the lack of a fitting room.

These mannequins are developed in our robotics laboratory, where we have gathered competences from diverse fields ranging from apparel design and anthropometrics to IT, robotics and engineering.

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Carbon-polymer composite (CPC) actuator-sensor materials are a type of EAP which have electromechanical properties similar to ionic polymer-metal composites (IPMC), but the composition is different.

We study how electromechanical properties change when carbon material or ionic liquid is changed.

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Another of our projects is concentrated on improving the finishing technology for shoe laces. In co-operation with Haine lace factory, our aim is to improve the present finishing methods:

• waxing of cotton laces to improve the lustre of laces to match polished leather shoes;

• water-repellency treatment of polyester laces for hiking-, military- and other specialty boots but also for other strings and laces. As the present treatments used do not guarantee consistent quality, improved chemicals and finishing techniques have to be developed.


Many of these research objectives imply bridging wide gaps between basic and applied sciences or between research and practical applications. We therefore aim at developing several proof-of-concept applications, for example such as a robot with artificial muscles, to demonstrate the potential of these new enabling technologies and to identify the main research problems that have to be tacked.

Besides our research activates the staff of our laboratory is also involved in education. We teach courses on computational physics, innovation and problem solving, biologically inspired robotics and coordinate the Robotics Club of University of Tartu. We also supervise course projects and master thesis related to our fields of competence. Many undergraduate students are actively participating in our research activities.