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John Rieffel

Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Union College

Growing and Evolving Soft Robots

Monday, February 6, 2012
AA-G008, 5:00 PM

 

Abstract

While robots played a part in the recovery efforts of recent natural

disasters in China and Japan, their relatively modest

role highlights the limitations of conventional rigid-bodied designs.

Imagine instead a soft, resilient and deformable robot able to change

shape and squeeze through small apertures.  Once the domain of science

fiction, soft robots are approaching reality thanks to recent advances

in engineering and material science. Unfortunately, the very

properties which make them  so appealing also make them incredibly

difficult to design and control.   Elasticity and deformability come

with the cost of resonance and dynamical coupling between components

— properties which are assiduously avoided in conventional

engineering design.  Moreover there’s a chicken-and-egg problem: how

can you design a robot without knowing how to control it, and how can

you control a robot unless you know its design?   In this talk I will

show how the biological paradigms of co-evolution, ontogeny, and

morphological computation can help overcome these challenges, leading

to the creation of an entirely new kind of robot.

 

Biography

John Rieffel is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Union

College.  He received degrees in Computer Science (BA) and Engineering

(BS) from Swarthmore College, and a Ph.D in Computer Science from

Brandeis University.  He has held postdoctoral positions in Cornell’s

Mechanical Engineering Department and Tufts University’s Biology

Department.  His research interests include tensegrities, soft and

amorphous robotics, 3D printing, and the evolution of physical

systems.

 

Readings

Knox, D., and Rieffel, J (2011) “Scalable co-evolution of soft robot

properties and gaits”. Proceedings of the Eleventh European Conference

on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (ECAL). MIT Press.

416–422.

http://cs.union.edu/~rieffelj/papers/knox-rieffel-ecal.pdf

 

Smith, S., and Rieffel, J. (2010) “A Face-Encoding Grammar for the

Generation of Tetrahedral-Mesh Soft Bodies”. Proceedings of the 12th

International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living

Systems (ALIFE12). MIT Press. 414–420.

http://cs.union.edu/~rieffelj/papers/rieffel-smith-alife12-published.pdf

 

Rieffel, J. , Valero-Cuevas, F. and Lipson, H. (2010) “Morphological

Communication: Exploiting Coupled Dynamics in a Complex Mechanical

Structure to Achieve Locomotion”. J. R. Soc. Interface.

http://cs.union.edu/~rieffelj/papers/rieffel-jrsi-2009.pdf

Seminar Recording:

Watch the Lecture