Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Growing and Evolving Soft Robots
Monday, February 6, 2012
AA-G008, 5:00 PM
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.
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
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.
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.
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.