Francesco Lo Cascio, LIFTT Project Manager

How and where did the Touch Sensity project come about?

“It is a French company – explains the Project Manager – based in Bordeaux, which specialises in assessing the quality of materials and monitoring their structural characteristics, particularly when they are used in transport equipment such as vehicles and other products subject to external stresses. In short, if an object can be damaged by external agents, Touch Sensity can immediately detect whether the impact has caused significant damage to the component”.

How can Touch Sensity’s technology monitor the properties of materials?

“Touch Sensity’s technology,” continues Francesco, “involves passing electrical energy across the surface of structures, which can be made of different types of materials, to analyse the behaviour of the energy along the surface itself. This is done through the use of patented algorithms developed specifically for the product or type of damage to be monitored. An example of an application of this technology is cylinders used for high pressure hydrogen, which must provide a safe structure to withstand pressures of up to 700 bar. While these cylinders are in use, Touch Sensity constantly monitors them for damage as they can be exposed to external agents such as gravel. To validate the results, a laboratory is used where damage is simulated using a ‘Charpy pendulum’, a machine standardised for impact testing, which strikes the surface of the cylinder with its tip. A pre- and post-impact analysis is then carried out to see if the algorithm can identify the actual damage. This process is also applied to other structures, such as the fronts of high-speed trains, which can be damaged by birds or other foreign objects. In this context, in addition to safety, the need for early detection of damage to minimise subsequent vehicle maintenance or downtime becomes relevant. Interestingly, this technology works effectively on poorly conductive materials, such as dielectrics, as well as conductive materials”.

What were the “proof points” that convinced you the most?

“LIFTT has great confidence in Touch Sensity’s technology, especially considering the importance of the brands involved in the Sensity Smart Tank project. We are talking about companies such as Alstom, Leonardo for helicopters and Plastic Omnium, which are focusing on the hydrogen tank market given its potential as a primary fuel in the mobility sector. The applications of this technology are many and varied, mainly related to mobility, but could be extended to other sectors in the future, thanks to the ability to control the structure through just 4 directly connected electrodes. What convinced us most was the huge growth of the hydrogen market, which until now has had no monitoring system for its cylinders, which operate at pressures of up to 700 bar, around 10 times the pressure at sea level, making them extremely dangerous. In addition, the team dedicated to this development is highly qualified both technically and industrially, with a sales manager coming from Safran, one of the leading companies in the railway components and infrastructure sector. Another aspect that convinced us was the prospect of reducing maintenance costs through predictive maintenance, identifying problems before they occur and increasing product efficiency”.

Can electrodes be applied to any type of material?

“Yes, electrodes can be applied to any type of material,” explains Francesco, “but a careful preliminary study is required to determine the optimum placement, method of application and specific desired responses. In the case of a hydrogen cylinder, for example, it is crucial to assess whether the cylinder will be subject to impact or deformation, perhaps due to a possible structural defect during manufacture. These conditions need to be monitored according to the specific application being pursued. On the other hand, for applications such as the front of TGV or other high-speed trains, electrodes are placed on the surface according to the type of monitoring required, taking into account the characteristics of the material itself. For example, if the material is painted, the paint will also influence the study process and will therefore be an integral part of the design analysis”.

What is the composition of the Touch Sensity team?

“The Touch Sensity team currently consists of around 20 engineers, 2 of whom are the founders of the company. The Chief Technology Officer is a Ukrainian-born woman who did her degree and PhD in France. Together with her partner, she founded Touch Sensity and has led the company’s development. The team is divided into four distinct groups: a laboratory group; a group responsible for the algorithms, which includes mathematicians with significant backgrounds; a commercial team; and finally, a group of engineers responsible for the actual product development, managing the electronics that communicate with the algorithms and the process of calculating the results. I found great expertise and a strong focus on results: there is also a stock option plan for employees”.

What are the characteristics of the round in which LIFTT participated?

“Our investment in Touch Sensity is approximately €800,000, representing approximately 10% of the company, in a total funding round of €1.75 million in which we are the lead investor. Other investors who participated include New Found, a local French investor that is part of the regional investors in the Aquitaine region where Bordeaux is located, a Swiss investor and another fund, Nouvelle Aquitaine”.

What are the next steps?

“We are currently at TRL 4/5 (Technology Readiness Level) for cylinders, and at TRL 4 for train fronts and other similar surfaces. The next steps are to continue the validation of the surfaces, to enter the real market, to differentiate and, as a result, to launch a fully functional product”.