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Materials Science at Oregon State University

Biologically inspired soft devices in robotics

Date: Thursday, Jun 4th
Presenter: Prof. Yigit Menguc, Robotics, Oregon State University


Incredible biological mechanisms have emerged through evolution, and can provide a wellspring of inspiration for engineers. One promising area emerging from biological inspiration is the design of devices and robots made of compliant materials, as part of a larger field of research in “soft robotics.” In this talk, the topics of designing soft, biologically inspired mechanisms will be presented in two case studies: controllable adhesives and soft wearable sensors. Additionally, the talk will cover the methods of fabricating soft devices through 3D printing, soft lithography, and laser micromachining. Surfaces covered in arrays of micro-fibers, inspired by the toes of a gecko, rely on compliance to repeatedly and controllably adhere to almost any surface while simultaneously shedding dirt. Sensors made of liquid metal encapsulated in rubber as soft as skin can track motion of the human body while naturally moving with its kinematics. However, these exciting soft mechanisms have certain challenges. The biological mechanisms that serve as a source of inspirations are made of materials that are vastly more compliant than the metal and plastic that engineers and roboticists normally use. To imitate and improve on nature’s design, we must create mechanisms with materials like fabric and rubber. It is difficult to characterize these hyperelastic, viscoelastic, and generally nonlinear materials, and it is difficult to integrate them into traditional fabrication techniques, but the development of such soft robotic devices promises to bring robots more and more into our daily lives.

Dr. Yigit Menguc works at the interface of mechanical science and robotics, creating soft devices inspired by nature and applied to robotics. He received his B.S., 2006, in Mechanical Engineering at Rice University in Houston and his M.S., 2008, and Ph.D., 2011, in Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, and will be joining Oregon State University as an assistant professor in robotics. He has previously developed micro-scale robotic manipulators exploiting controllable adhesion and a self-cleaning adhesive that equals the gecko’s toe in stickiness. In his current research he is developing hyper-elastic sensors for wearable motion tracking and soft robotics.