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Workshop @RoboSoft 2022 sponsored by PROBOSCIS

Festival delle Scienze Roma 2021
27 Novembre 2021 - Teatro Studio Borgna  Auditorium Parco della Musica

Workshop @RoboSoft 2021

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Soft continuum systems in nature and robotics

Biological and artificial intelligence through materials, sensing, actuation, and control



Many living beings owe to inherent continuum structures their capability to adapt to the environment and perform a multitude of tasks otherwise impossible. Studying biological models, like elephant trunks, octopus’ arms, and plants can provide insights on new and efficient ways of embodying intelligence by structure, actuation, sensing and control. Then in artificial designs, it is necessary to avoid discretization of the different embedded functionalities and material characteristics, as it seems to be one of the keys to soft robotic versatility - and today several material and fabrication approaches are holding promise in this direction. Among the open challenges are the smooth integration between sensing and actuation, together with distributed extero-proprio sensorial feedback from the continuum structure needed to ease the generation of complex control strategies.

>In this workshop, we aim to gather scientists from biology, material science, and robotics. We will highlight interesting characteristics of continuum structures in nature, and discuss possible new technological approaches for future development of soft robots, able to make smooth and robust controlled transitions among tasks, including grasping and manipulation of a wide diversity of items, growing and climbing in different environments, and more.


The workshop focuses on some continuum structures that can be observed in nature, like the elephant trunk, and on the advantages, they give by enabling a multitude of tasks otherwise impossible. Similar structures in robotics may enable unprecedented tasks: continuum robots can bend, but also extend/contract and sometimes twist at any point along with their structure. This provides them with capabilities beyond the scope of their rigid-link counterparts in grasping and manipulation, as well as in a variety of other functions. As it will be highlighted through the talks, if, from one side, the potentiality of the approach has been recognised by roboticists, who are funnelling the morphological characteristics of natural continuum structures in the design of bio-inspired robots; on the other side, these new artefacts still show limited sensors integration, basic control capabilities and limited force generation. The workshop aims at providing a meeting point for the main disciplines involved in the challenge of building a new generation of continuum, sensorized robots: biology, material science and robotics. The workshop then includes lectures on the principles of continuum structures in nature, like muscular hydrostats; presentations of the advances in smart materials and fabrication techniques, and descriptions of the robotics technologies involved in continuum actuation, sensing and control. Within this workshop we do not aim at providing answers to the technological problems rather at presenting insights and challenges, and at stimulating an interdisciplinary discussion, raising new questions for research. The workshop consists of a number of scheduled short talks, on the topics described above, and includes two more sessions, open to discussion and presentations from the communities involved. A session will be devoted to short ‘pitches’ of abstracts that will be selected through an open call. A final discussion session will be devoted to raising issues, outlining challenges and drawing conclusions on the research questions ahead. The multidisciplinary approach will stimulate creativity and interactions among participants. The audience of the workshop will consist of researchers from different disciplines (robotics, biology, material science, and more), and the high technological and scientific level of the topics addressed can make an impact on young researchers and students at the Master and PhD level. The workshop derives from the activities of the PROBOSCIS project (, funded by the EC to a consortium of 5 partners, led by the Italian Institute of Technology. The project provides further opportunities for dissemination and for reaching out to diverse scientific communities.


Lucia Beccai

Barbara Mazzolai

Egidio Falotico

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Cecilia Laschi

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Invited Speakers

Name Affiliation Country
Jessica Burgner-Kahrs University of Toronto Mississauga Canada
Paule Dagenais University of Geneva Switzerland
Helmut Hauser University of Bristol United Kingdom
David Hu Georgia Tech USA
Sarah Karmel Photocentric United Kingdom
Christoph Keplinger Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems Germany
William M. Kier University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill USA
Shlomo Magdassi The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israel
Kasper Stoy University of Copenhagen


Ian D. Walker Clemson University USA
Li Wen Beihang University China


Speaker Time (UTC-4) Title
Lucia Beccai 08:00-08:15

Welcome and introduction to the workshop


Session 1

Chair: Cecilia Laschi

William M. Kier 08:15-08:30

The morphology and biomechanics of muscular hydrostats

Ian D. Walker 08:30-08:45

Continuum robot hoses

Li Wen 08.45-09.00

Design, sensing, and modeling of bio-inspired continuum soft robots for delicate grasping

Egidio Falotico 09:00-09:15

Reaching strategies in continuum systems

Paule Dagenais 09:15-09:30

Methods for behavioral experiments with elephants

Helmut Hauser 09:30-09:45

Design through Interaction – How the body can learn from the environment

Abstract pitches  (3’ each) 09.45-10:15 View
Q&A and PANEL DISCUSSION (45’) 10:15-11:00

W. M. Kier, I. D. Walker, L. Wen, E. Falotico, P. Dagenais, H. Hauser

Chair: Cecilia Laschi

11:00-11:15 Break

Session 2

Chair: Lucia Beccai

Shlomo Magdassi 11:15-11:30

3D & 4D printing for soft robotics

Christoph Keplinger 11:30-11:45

HASEL Artificial Muscles—Versatile actuators for soft robotic continuum systems

Sarah Karmel 11:45-12:00

Visible light 3D printing for continuum structures

Jessica Burgner-Kahrs 12:00-12:15

Extensible continuum robots

Kasper Stoy 12:15-12:30

Braided structures as a basis for soft/hard continuum systems

David Hu 12:30-12:45

Biomechanics of the elephant trunk

Q&A and PANEL DISCUSSION (45’) 12:45-13:30

S. Magdassi, C. Keplinger, S. Karmel, J. Burgner-Kars, K. Stoy, D. Hu, B. Mazzolai

Chair: Lucia Beccai


End of the Workshop


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The Project

From autonomous assembly lines, personal robot helpers, sorting robots in food production, and search & rescue operations, future robotic technology must deal with versatility, even beyond human capability, hinging on new forms of intelligence like those rooted on bioinspired design and soft robotics.

The elephant proboscis represents a remarkable biological model for a ground-breaking new concept of robotic manipulation. It is a highly sensitive organ with exceptional agility and versatility by which elephants sense and interact with the world. They can perform both strong tasks (like transporting heavy tree trunks), and delicate, highly precise tasks (such as picking up a single leaf) supported by more than a hundred thousand muscles, and a rugged skin.  

In PROBOSCIS the main idea is to take inspiration from the anatomy and morphology of the natural proboscis, as well as from its gripping behaviour, by addressing unprecedented in-depth investigations on the elephant, and to develop totally new soft robotic strategies for versatile robotic manipulation.

The overarching goal is to establish a novel paradigm of tactile-based universal manipulation for real-world robots that, inspired from elephants, engage with uncertain environments, promptly adapt to unexpected situations and perform a multitude of real-world grasping tasks 

This vision will be grounded on new developments in proprioceptive biomimetic artificial muscles, bioinspired tough tactile skin and 3D sensing strategies, multifunctional materials and 3D fabrication technologies, and bioinspired control for tactile-driven soft manipulation.

The project consortium will provide multidisciplinary expertise for producing new knowledge on the elephant proboscis, and for developing new soft robotic technologies that will impact assistive, industrial, domestic, rescue and environmental applications. 

PROBOSCIS is a European project funded under the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme, specifically FET-Open, of the EU framework programme for research and innovation (Horizon 2020).

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 863212.

© Proboscis Project