Center for Micro-BioRobotics, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), V.le Rinaldo Piaggio, 34 – 56025 Pontedera, Italy
Talk Title: How to Build Soft Robots: Learning by Nature
Abstract: Robots today are expected to operate in a variety of scenarios, being able to cope with uncertain situations and to react quickly to changes in the environment. In this scenario a strong relationship between nature and technology plays a major role, with the winning approach of evaluating natural systems to abstract principles for new designs. Bioinspired soft robotics is a worldwide known paradigm to develop new solutions for science and technology, giving way to a series of innovative robotic solutions assisting and supporting today’s society. A bioinspired approach needs a deep understanding of the selected biological models in order to extract the key features relevant for designing robotic systems able to imitate the biological counterpart in some specific functions. Among many, growth is a very interesting feature of living beings that can inspire a generation of soft robots with new and unpredictable abilities of movement and morphological adaptation to external environments. Noteworthy, plants represent an alternative model of movement in robotics, which is not animal-like and muscle-based. Plants’ movement is mostly a consequence of an indeterminate growth, which occurs for their entire life. For the first time in robotics, we proposed a growing robot inspired by movements and behaviors of plant roots. The robot is able to create its own structure exploiting a 3D printer-like system integrated in its tip for the deposition of a thermoplastic material, thus imitating the indeterminate axial growth and bending root abilities. Passive and active movements in plants can also be exploited for developing multifunctional soft materials and energy-efficient actuators based on osmosis. Starting from the investigation of nutrient uptake phenomena, movements and communication strategies adopted by plant roots, we developed an uptake–kinetics feedback control for the robotic roots. In summary, based on these plants’ features, we can generate new, unexplored abilities in bioinspired soft robots, which can better adapt to external, unstructured environments, move purposively, effectively and efficiently.
Bio: Barbara Mazzolai is Director of the Center for Micro-BioRobotics (CMBR) since February 16th, 2011, and she was Deputy Director for the Supervision and Organization of the IIT Centers Network from July 2012 to 2017. She graduated (MSc) in Biology (with Honours) at the University of Pisa, Italy, in 1995, and received the Ph.D. in Microsystems Engineering from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. From 1994 to 1998 she worked at the Institute of Biophysics of the National Research Council in Pisa. In 1998 she obtained an International Master Degree in Eco-Management and Audit Schemes at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) in Pisa. From February 1999 until June 2004 she had a position at the Center for Research in Microengineering (CRIM Lab, now the BioRobotics Institute) of SSSA as Research Assistant and, from July 2004 to October 2009, as Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering at SSSA. From November 2009 to February 2011 she was Team Leader at the CMBR. From January to July 2017 she was Visiting Faculty at Aerial Robotics Lab, Department of Aeronautics, of Imperial College of London. In 2010 she received the “Marisa Bellisario” Award for her scientific and management activities in the EU DustBot project for improving the urban hygiene and the quality of life of citizens. In 2013 she was awarded the Medal of the Senate of the Italian Republic for her scientific activities in biomimetics and biorobotics. In 2015 she was listed among the 25 most influential women in robotics by RoboHub. Her current scientific activity focuses on bioinspired soft robotics, with a particular research interest in merging Biology and Engineering. She has a long experience as Project Manager of European Projects in this field (e.g. OCTOPUS, FP7-231608; HydroNet, FP7-212790; DustBot, FP6-045299; EMECAP, QLK4-CT-2000-00489; etc.) and she was the Coordinator of the FET-Open PLANTOID European Project (n° 293431). She was the Project Manager of the SeedBot ESA-ARIADNA Project in 2006 and, more recently, the Principal Investigator for CMBR-IIT of the ESA-ARIADNA Study Project, titled “Self-burial strategy and performance in Erodium cicutarium (SeeDriller)”, aimed at studying the soil penetration strategies implemented by the seed of this plant and developing models based on these penetration mechanisms. She is the Principal Investigator for CMBR-IIT for the EC H2020-ICT-2015 XoSoft Project (Soft modular biomimetic exoskeleton to assist people with mobility impairments). She has been member of panels of the European Commission within the Seventh Frame Program in the field of Robotics and ICT, and of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology in the field of Environment and Health. She is Guest Editor of a Soft Robotics Special Issue in Biomimetics, member of the Editorial Board of Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, Soft Robotics, Robotics & Automation Letters, and Associated Editor for Frontiers in Bionics and Biomimetics. She served as Associated Editor for ICRA 2016-2018, IEEE RA-L 2016-2018, IROS 2013 and 2017, as Interdisciplinary Program Co-Chairs for RoboSoft 2018, Government Forum Co-Chair for IROS 2016, and Publicity Co-Chair for BIOROB 2012. She is also member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Tübingen and Stuttgart, Germany. She is author of more than 180 papers appeared in international journals, books, and conference proceedings. She is member of the IEEE, and of the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and of the Robotics and Automation Society.