Possible applications for soft autonomous materials

We are interested in designing “soft” robotic systems that show unprecedented levels of shape deformation, flexibility and robustness. To achieve this goal, we aim at combining chemistry, information theory, and control to create novel materials that embed sensing, computation, and actuation.

We are currently investigating cellular pneumatic systems, which have the ability to locomote and deform simply by changing the pressure in each cell selectively. While we are currently relying on compressed air, this pressure might also created by chemical reactions (e.g. thermal expansion, liquid-gas phase transitions or “smart'” fluids) inside the material.

Prototype of a soft autonomous material that can roll using distributed control

Each cell is equipped with a light sensor for determining its position relative to the ground, a valve to fill or vent the cell, power electronics and a micro-controller that  can communicate with the neighboring cells. When the cells are arranged in a circle, the structure can move forwards using only local rules for each cell that are a function of sensor status, the status of the neighboring cells and time.

We are also interested in soft sensing skins for advanced grasping that rely on similar computational principles.


N. Correll, C. Onal, H. Liang, E. Schoenfeld and D. Rus. Soft Autonomous Materials – Using Programmed Elasticity and Embedded Distributed Computation. In International Symposium on Experimental Robotics (ISER), New Delhi, India, December 2010. To appear.


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