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564 ADDING THE SENSE OF TOUCH
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(or axis) and expand in the other. Conversely, placing the piezoelectric material under pressure (in a vise, for example) compresses the dipoles in one more axis. This causes the material to release an electric charge. While natural crystals were the first piezoelectric materials used, synthetic materials have been developed that greatly demonstrate the piezo effect. A common human-made piezoelectric material is ferroelectric zirconium titanate ceramic, which is often found in piezo buzzers used in smoke alarms, wristwatches, and security systems. The zirconium titanate is evenly deposited on a metal disc. Electrical signals, applied through wires bonded to the surfaces of the disc and ceramic, cause the piezo material to vibrate at high frequencies (usually 4 kHz and above). Piezo activity is not confined to brittle ceramics. PVDF, or polyvinylidene fluoride (used to make high-temperature PVDF plastic water pipes), is a semicrystalline polymer that lends itself to unusual piezoelectric applications. The plastic is pressed into thin, clear sheets and is given precise piezo properties during manufacture by among other things stretching the sheets and exposing them to intense electrical fields. PVDF piezo film is currently used in many commercial products, including noninductive guitar pickups, microphones, even solid-state fans for computers and other electrical equipment. One PVDF film you can obtain and experiment with is Kynar, available directly from the manufacturer (see Measurement Specialists at www.msiusa.com for more information). Whether you are experimenting with ceramic or flexible PVDF film, it s important to understand a few basic concepts about piezoelectric materials:
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I Piezoelectric materials are voltage sensitive. The higher the voltage is, the more the
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piezoelectric material changes. Apply 1 volt to a ceramic disc and crystal movement will be slight. Apply 100 volts and the movement will be much greater. I Piezoelectric materials act as capacitors. Piezo materials develop and retain an electrical charge. I Piezoelectric materials are bipolar. Apply a positive voltage and the material expands in one axis. Apply a negative voltage and the material contracts in that axis.
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The ubiquitous ceramic disc is perhaps the easiest form of piezoelectric transducer to experiment with. A sample disc is shown in Fig. 35.8. The disc is made of nonferrous metal, and the ceramic-based piezo material is applied to one side. Most discs available for purchase have two leads already attached. The black lead is the ground of the disc and is directly attached to the metal itself. You can use a ceramic disc as an audio transducer by applying an audio signal to it. Most piezo discs will emit sound in the 1K to 10K region, with a resonant frequency of between 3K and 4K. At this resonant frequency the output of the disc will be at its highest. When the piezo material of the disc is under pressure even a slight amount the disc outputs a voltage proportional to the amount of pressure. This voltage is short lived: shortly after the initial change in pressure, the voltage output of the disc will return to 0. A negative voltage is created when the pressure is released (see the discussion of the bipolar nature of piezo materials earlier in the chapter).
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FIGURE 35.8 Piezo ceramic discs are ideally suited to be contact and pressure sensors for robotics.
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You can easily interface piezo discs to a computer or microcontroller, either with or without an analog-to-digital converter. 36, Collision Avoidance and Detection, discusses several interface approaches. See the section Piezo Disc Touch Bar in that chapter for more information.
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Samples of Kynar piezoelectric film are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. The wafers, which are about the same thickness as the paper in this book, have two connection points, as illustrated in Fig. 35.9. Like ceramic discs, these two connection points are used to activate the film with an electrical signal or to relay pressure on the film as an electrical impulse. You can perform basic experiments with the film using just an oscilloscope (preferred) or a high-impedance digital voltmeter. Connect the leads of the scope or meter to the tabs on the end of the film (the connection will be sloppy; later in this chapter we ll discuss ways to apply leads to Kynar film). Place the film on a table and tap on it. You ll see a fast voltage spike on the scope or an instantaneous rise in voltage on the meter. If the meter isn t auto-ranging and you are using the meter at a low setting, chances are that the voltage spike will exceed the selected range.
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