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Soft Robotics Update With Dr. Cagdas Onal

E D U   B O T S


EduBots-SAW.inddWorcester Polytechnic Institute

Worcester, MA


Cagdas Onal, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA


Soft Robotics Update, by Cogdas Onal

Ongoing research at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Soft Robotics Lab focuses on the development and integration of sensing and control approaches to address unique challenges for complete soft robotic systems. Recent advances in our soft sensing research includes tactile, force, and curvature sensors by exploring a composite design and fabrication methodology. These sensors accurately detect the relative motion of an embedded miniature magnet under force or deformation of a soft rubber substrate. (Our curvature sensors were recently reported in Sensors and Actuators Journal:

EduBots-SAW.inddThis new soft sensing approach offers inherent compatibility with soft robotic bodies and reduced dynamic measurement artifacts. Integrating the developed curvature sensors in a soft pressure-driven snake enables soft robots to sense their own shape. With the addition of on-board pressure sources and control electronics, the latest prototype of the WPI soft robotic snake is capable of self-contained operation towards full autonomy. (Our results on this platform were recently reported in the Bioinspiration & Biomimetics Journal: article/10.1088/1748-3190/10/5/055001.

In parallel, research is underway to study soft robotic manipulation systems, using soft pneumatic actuators to drive internal kinematic skeleton modules, similar to human spines. Our current work focuses on the development and experimental validation of a closed-loop motion control scheme that reduces actuation requirements. Recent results enable the multi-segment manipulator to follow a desired trajectory, as a precursor to a completely pressure-driven soft robotic arm. We will present a conference paper on this work in May 2016 at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

EduBots-SAW.inddJosh Graff, Junior, Robotics Engineering 

Josh Graff, a junior from Detroit majoring in robotics engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, has had a number of memorable educational experiences, with his direct involvement in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA] Robotics Challenge topping the list. We caught up with Josh during a break in his studies.

Robot: What has the robotics engineering program at WPI allowed you to do?

Josh: I’ve had the opportunity to pursue my own interests in education and research. Working on cutting-edge research projects with roboticists from around the world is a unique challenge that I hope someday might shape my career and the field of robotics. WPI is on the forefront of robotics, and being there with it is living the dream.

Robot: How would you describe your experiences at the DRC Trials and Finals?

Josh: Working with a team of some of the finest roboticists in the world was an experience I’m not going to forget. I think that only at WPI could I work on such an interesting project as an undergraduate freshman because the only requirements were that I show up, do the work, and ask for help.

Robot: How has WPI’s project-based curriculum shaped your educational experience?

Josh: The projects at WPI engage every student in the class through process over product. Being able to solve real problems with skills learned by doing is a testament to the “Theory and Practice” curriculum at WPI.

Robot: What advice would you give to aspiring roboticists?

Josh: Do what you like and find a reason for it later: Necessity breeds innovation, but imagination breeds cool stuff.