Our group performs research activities within the Center for MicroBioRobotics@SSSA (CMBR) with the goal to provide a leap forward in the area of artificial touch for the next generation of robots, wearable systems and human–machine interfaces.
Soft systems are a promising direction for creating future leading technologies capable of both interacting with and assisting humans, by negotiating useful tasks in the environment. Human/environment-machine interactions are highly critical, and the use of soft sensing that is intelligent with flexible electronics and processing, fully symbiotic with soft movement is imperative. The scientific goal of this research line is to investigate natural-like physical interactions and create new soft and embodied sensing processes, with a focus on touch, for totally new robotic solutions that can ‘see the world’ and intelligently interact with it.
In living beings touch is the primordial sense used to interact with the environment, implement movement and action. The physical interaction needed to elicit sensory responses is mediated by soft structures and materials and these capabilities enable living organisms to survive, especially in cases where vision is absent or not prioritized. In both passive and active touch natural processes, high mechanical compliance (passive and active soft adaptability), and rich sensorial feedback (distributed sensing) are fundamental to perceive the world. Thus, we use a soft robotics approach for investigating unexplored dimensions in perception.
Our activities are based on three major thrusts:
- Biomechanics of touch: the intelligent biomechanical design of natural sensory organs can be investigated to shed light on the role of morphology and materials for encoding the sensing information. By this approach is it possible to design multimodal sensing solutions and minimize overall computational complexity? On the other hand, can new models/devices represent platforms to understand more deeply the underlying mechanisms of biological tactile encoding?
- Embodied 3D Soft Transduction: soft mechanical sensing (mechanosensing) in a soft robot body is crucial to enable extero-and proprioception: what are the best sensing strategies that will enable a smooth and controlled physical interaction?
- Bioinspired Soft Robotic Systems for Investigating Active Touch: touch sense is intimately linked to how an organism/robot moves and interacts with its environment. New soft exploration and grasping platforms need to take more advantage of this symbiosis. The specific goal is to investigate tactile-driven tasks in new versatile soft robotic platforms. Currently we are taking inspiration from the elephant trunk to develop systems capable to sense, grasp, manipulate, and release in the environment a wide range of payloads, and objects of diverse dimensions and shapes.
Our work is articulated among various interplaying parts that involve material selection and characterization, design of system and of transduction mechanism – including modelling, fabrication with designed technological process, development of suitable signal processing (software and hardware). 3D fabrication technologies across multiple scales are investigated with soft non-linear materials (passive and conductive) (e.g. conductive polymers, conductive textiles, composite materials with fillers/particles as metals/CNT/graphene, responsive hydrogels, conductive fibers etc.), and several transduction principles applied (e.g. optical, inductive, piezoelectric, capacitive, resistive, etc.). Sensing features at low and high level are either directly extracted or investigated by means of cutting edge AI technologies.
- Open Soft Robotics Research - PLOS ONE Collections
- Machine Learning Techniques for Soft Robotics – Research Topic in Frontiers in Robotics and AI
We utilize mainly the following equipment (available at CMBR) to study the biological models and to design, develop and test our devices and systems. In particular:
- COMSOL Multiphysics to study coupled or multiphysics phenomena, in particular to simulate mechanical, optical and electrical devices and systems;
- Clean room facilities - including those for photolithography and thin film deposition (sputtering and evaporation), as well as direct laser writing (Nanoscribe©), inkjet-printing (DMP-2831, Dimatix, Fujifilm), electrospinning – and soft lithography;
- Laser cutter (VersaLaser VLS3.50) and 3D printer (CubeX, 3DSystems) to pattern thin films and build precise molds and mechanical components, respectively;
- SEM (EVO MA10, Zeiss), Dual Beam system (Helios 600l, FEI), optical microscope (KH-7700, Hirox), optical profilometer (DCM 3D, Leica), high resolution camera, 3DoF systems integrating a multi-axis load cells and precision linear translators;
- Other facilities and labs utilized for this research line include electronic circuit design and fabrication facilities, a mechanical machine shop, and a chemical lab.
- PROBOSCIS project - “PROBOSCIdean Sensitive soft robot for versatile gripping” (2019-2023) - Coordinator
- 3D-SITS project - “3D Stretchable Inductive Tactile Sensors for Soft Artificial Touch” (2018-2020)
- FLEX-HANDLING “Advanced soft sensing and control in soft grippers for flexible materials handling” - Royal Society International Exchanges (2019-2021)
- Prof. Unyong Jeong, Pohang University of Science and Technology, South Korea
- Dr. Shan Luo and Dr. Paolo Paoletti, University of Liverpool, UK
- Prof. Michel Milinkovitch, University of Geneva, Switzerland
- Prof. Shlomo Magdassi, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
- Prof. Cecilia Laschi and Dr. Egidio Falotico, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy
- Dr. Kathryn Daltorio, Case Western Reserve University, USA
- Prof. Paolo Milani, University of Milan, Italy
- Dr. Barbara Mazzolai, IIT-BSR
- Prof. Massimo De Vittorio, IIT-CBN
- Dr. Marco Crepaldi, IIT-EDL