Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Soft Robots for Humanity

ME 23N

While traditional robotic manipulators are constructed from rigid links and simple joints, a new generation of robotic devices is soft, using flexible, deformable materials. The growing field of soft robotics offers exciting new approaches for bio-inspired design, fast and low-cost prototyping, and integrating novel materials with digital control. These soft robots have the potential to benefit humanity in a wide variety of applications, ranging from medical devices that interface gently with the human body to robot explorers for remote or dangerous environments.

Students in this class will learn how to design, make, and test soft robots. We will discuss what makes a robot soft, the tools and design approaches for creating soft robots, and what advantages and challenges result from using soft materials and compliant structures. Students will get hands-on experience building soft robots using various materials, actuators, and programming to create robots that perform different tasks. Through this process, students will gain an appreciation for the capabilities and limitations of bio-inspired systems, use design thinking to create novel robotic solutions, and gain practical interdisciplinary engineering skills related to robotics, mechanical engineering, and bioengineering. The final project will involve creating a soft robot to accomplish a task that benefits people.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Allison Okamura

"I am a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department and director of the Collaborative Haptics and Robotics in Medicine (CHARM) Laboratory. I create robots and human-computer interfaces that use haptics (the sense of touch) in order to improve human health, safety, and quality of life. I work with my students to study applications of this technology in robot-assisted surgery, prosthetics, rehabilitation, virtual reality, exploration, and education. I am committed to sharing my passion for research and discovery, using robotics and haptics in outreach programs to groups underrepresented in engineering. Outside academia, I enjoy spending time with my husband and two children, running, and playing ice hockey."