News Archives

Adaptive Movements in Animals and Machines (AMAM) conference at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH

June 1-6, 2008
A group of faculty, post-docs and students from the Advanced Technology Laboratory recently presented their work at the Adaptive Movements in Animals and Machines (AMAM) conference at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH (June 1-6, 2008). This international conference takes place every three years providing a forum for leading biologists and engineers in the area of biomimetic robotics to share ideas. Students, Meghan Kate, Linnea van Griethuijsen and Huai-ti Lin presented posters on soft-bodied locomotion and the development of a soft-robot prototype. Professor Barry Trimmer gave a plenary seminar entitled "Neuromechanics using soft materials: animal models and supple robots".

In the Lab: Robots That Slink and Squirm

New York Times article on the Biomimetic Technologies for Soft-bodied Robots project
"The robot lies dissected on the black slab of a lab table, its silicone rubber exterior spread and flattened like a trophy snakeskin. Hair-thin wires run in a zigzag line along the inner length of its pale artificial flesh. Barry Trimmer flicks a small switch and the wires contract, causing the silicone to bunch up; the skin crawls, so to speak."

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Biomimetic Technologies for Soft Bodied Robots

Keck Foundation Award to Tufts University
The Tufts Neuromechanics and Biomimetic Devices Laboratory (BDL) is at the center of a new consortium of seven Tufts faculty in the Schools of Engineering and Arts and Sciences that has been awarded a Keck Foundation grant of $730,000 to develop "Biomimetic Technologies for Soft Bodied Robots".

The overall goal of the program is to carry out research into biologically-based technologies that use soft materials and to incorporate them into a new type of highly flexible robot. These machines will have applications in biomedical diagnosis and surgery, emergency rescue and exploration, and for monitoring or repairing space vehicles. Devices based on these technologies are also expected to improve the versatility and performance of conventional robots. In addition to this novel research, the program will recruit and train students from both Science and Engineering to work together in cross-disciplinary areas.

The project is co-directed by Professors Barry Trimmer (Biology Department and Neuromechanics and Biomimetic Devices Laboratory) and David Kaplan (Biomedical Engineering). Professors Robert White (Mech. Eng.) and Sameer Sonkusale (Elect. & Comp. Eng.) will supervise projects in the Tufts Microfabrication Laboratory. Professors Luis Dorfmann (Civil/Envir. Eng.) and Gary Leisk (Mech. Eng.) will supervise the material testing and modeling parts of the project and Professors Valencia Joyner (Elect. & Comp. Eng.) and Sameer Sonkusale will direct the design and production of soft material integrated circuits. The Keck grant will provide specialized equipment for use with soft materials and biomechanics experiments.

Make Like a Caterpillar

To most of us, caterpillars are a necessary evil, creepy-crawly first drafts for all those beautiful butterflies that flutter around the petunias. In the eyes of neurobiologist Barry Trimmer, however, it's precisely their unsavory squirminess that makes caterpillars worth studying. As animal movement is normally conceived, caterpillars shouldn't be able to move at all. 

Learn more about Trimmer's research and the coming metamorphosis in robots in The Winter 2007 article featured in Tufts Magazine.

3D Printing Technology

Building on work from students in the BREEM program (see below), senior Mechanical Engineers Gregory Bettencourt and Raymond Radovich have designed and built a new molding system for the most recent Softbot prototype. This system makes use of 3-D printing technology to form multi-part interlocking components into which silicone elastomers and shape-memory alloy actuators can be assembled. Further development of this approach will be possible through the recent support of the Keck Foundation.

BREEM Students Join the Neuromechanics and Biomimetic Devices Laboratory

This summer, the Tufts Neuromechanics and Biomimetic Devices Laboratory is hosting two students in the BREEM (Biomedical Research Experience for Engineering Majors) program funded by the NIH and administered by Professor Claire Moore at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Research (Tufts University Medical School), and Professor Peter Wong in the School of Engineering.

Daniel Rogers is returning for his second summer research experience at Tufts and is building the second generation prototype of a soft-bodied robot called Softbot 2. Dan is a rising senior in the Tufts University Department of Mechanical Engineering with particular interests in materials and biomimetic engineering. In 2005 he was responsible for developing the composite shape memory alloy and silicone elastomer actuators that allows Softbot to move. He is currently using subtractive rapid prototyping and a variety of moldmaking techniques to cast complex elastomeric shapes that have embedded actuators.

Steven Warren is a rising junior majoring in Electrical Engineering. Steve is co-sponsored by Professors Valencia Joyner Koomson and Barry Trimmer and is designing and building an electronic control system for Softbot 2. This control system will consist of a software module and a hardware interface using concepts derived from the neuromechanics of soft-bodied animals.

One overall goal of both of these projects is to develop technologies that will be used in a new type the flexible endoscope for biomedical diagnosis and surgery.

A Biomimetic Passive Gripper Inspired by Caterpillar Legs

Daniel Hake successfully defended his MS thesis in Mechanical Engineering on July 7th 2006 by demonstrating a climbing robot that grips without expending energy. Dan's prototype uses shape memory alloy (SMA) actuators and the intrinsic compliance of its legs to ascend a vertical wooden dowel. The project originated from observations of the caterpillar, Manduca sexta, which naturally holds onto branches and only needs to do muscular work when it wants to let go or move around. Dan is currently finishing up his work by making the device autonomous. The gripper is expected to find uses in robots that need to stay in position for extended periods (for example during surveillance) and by using SMAs it is very scalable, cheap to make and has a very high strength to weight ratio. The project was co-sponsored by Professor Chris Rogers (Mech. Eng.) and Professor Barry Trimmer (Biology).

Kenneth Roeder Memorial Lecture

April 6th, 2006 - 7:30pm - Barnum 008
You are encouraged to attend the annual Kenneth Roeder Memorial Lecture. This year's lecture will be by Professor Roy Ritzmann (Case Western Reserve University, Program in Neuromechanics) who will talk about the neural control of terrestrial locomotion in different environments.

Biomimicry at the Museum of Modern Art

The prototype was recently featured in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibit, entitled Design and the Elastic Mind , was open from February 24th - May 12th earlier this year and included "objects, projects, and concepts offered by teams of designers, scientists, and engineers from all over the world, ranging from the nanoscale to the cosmological scale."