Yale University

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 the many continuum structures that can be observed in nature, from animal to plants, and on the advantages they give by enabling a multitude of tasks otherwise impossible. The focus is not only on the wonders of continuum actuation but wants to switch a light on sensitive structures, which are smoothly integrated and similarly arranged in a continuum way and on strategies used for controlling such hyper-redundant, flexible bodies. Similar structures in robotics may enable unprecedented tasks: continuum robots can bend, but also extend/contract and sometimes twist at any point along 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 in 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 raise issues, outline challenges and draw 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 Master and PhD level. The workshop derives from the activities of the PROBOSCIS project (www.proboscis.eu), 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.


Invited Speakers

Jessica Burgner-Kahrs
University of Toronto Mississauga
Paule Dagenais
University of Geneva
Helmut Hauser
University of Bristol
United Kingdom
David Hu
Georgia Tech
Sarah Karmel
United Kingdom
Cristoph Keplinger
Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems
William S. Kier
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Shlomo Magdassi
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Ian D. Walker
Clemson University
Li Wen
Beihang University

Call for contributions

We invite participants to submit an extended abstract (max 500 words and 1 figure) for a short talk. Please, submit by March 26, 2021, from the Proboscis Contact Form.
Young researchers and students are encouraged to participate.
All abstracts should comply with the standard IEEE conference page layout.
Submission of video clips accompanying the abstract is also possible by providing a Youtube link.

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

© 2019 Proboscis Project