Throughout the evolution, living organisms have developed a so-called "embodied intelligence", by which they have mastered the art of survival. Such evolutionary success in many of small-scale soft-bodied organisms is rooted in their adaptation and response to environmental cues through a chain of sensing and actuating reactions. These reactions manifest themselves in various shape-transformation, locomotion, and propulsion mechanisms facilitated by the soft, anisotropic, and stimuli-responsive nature of their body.
Small-scale bioinspired, soft robots and devices are deemed as artificial analogs of such organisms that can perform predetermined tasks. The design, fabrication, manipulation, and the application of small-scale soft robots and devices are elements of a new interdisciplinary paradigm linking several research fields, such as materials science, synthetic biology, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
Our group aims to address particular sets of challenges in the design and development of small-scale, bioinspired soft robots with focus on three main research directions: 1) Development of Smart Materials, 2) Small-scale Fabrication and Assembly, and 3) Responsive Soft Robots and Devices.
Integration & Assembly
Small-scale Robots & Devices
Rational Design of Small-scale Robots and Devices: from Materials to Robots
Development of Smart Materials
The first research direction in our group is the development of novel synthetic materials with properties, characteristics, and functionalities of soft-bodied biological organisms, such as anisotropic morphology, responsiveness, mobility, and adaptability.
We are particularly interested in soft, shape-change programmable, and stimuli-responsive polymers, such as cross-linked networks of liquid crystalline polymers, their composites, and organic artificial muscles. These materials can be stimulated by a variety of cues such as heat, light, and electrical or magnetic fields, with predetermined deformation behaviors. As such, they have significant potential in the development of new generation of soft robots and miniature devices.
Small-scale Fabrication and Assembly
The second research direction in our group is the fabrication and assembly of small-scale 2D and 3D soft constructs from soft, shape-change programmable, and stimuli-responsive materials with predetermined physico-mechanical properties and response. Our objective is to optimize and leverage the existing small-scale fabrication and assembly techniques to encode desired actuation behaviors through tailoring the initial geometry and molecular orientation of these materials,
We use a variety of top-down and bottom-up techniques, which include, but are not limited to, with-mask and mask-less photo-lithography, soft-lithography, micro-machining, subtractive manufacturing, and direct laser writing (DLW) or two-photon polymerization.
Responsive Soft Robots and Devices
The third research direction in our group is the development of small-scale soft robots and functional devices from smart material and assemblies that are able to alter their shape and properties in response to certain external stimuli. Such assemblies can be employed to conduct a broad range of tasks in environments with different levels of complexity such as locomotion, transportation, propulsion, etc.
It is envisioned that micro-scale robots and devices will revolutionize technologies, such as in healthcare, that require targeted and minimally-invasive operations. As such, we are interested in the remotely powering, steering, functioning, and monitoring of small-scale robots and devices preferably by a variety of established medical techniques.