Research Overview 

The research interests of the Bio-Inspired Robotics Lab lie at the intersection of robotics and biology. Through abstraction of the design principles of biological systems, we develop core competences which are the design and control of dynamic mechatronic systems, bionic sensor and actuator technologies, and computational optimization techniques. Our main goals are to contribute to a deeper understanding of adaptivity and autonomy of animals through the investigation of dynamic robots, and to engineer novel robotic applications which are more adaptive, maneuverable, resilient, and energy efficient.Currently our research focus is centered around “modeling of biological systems” (mathematical formulations of animals’ adaptive behaviors), “self-organization” (mechanisms to generate structures and patterns), and “component development” (development of unconventional enabling technologies such as sensors, motors, computation algorithms and assembling technologies).

Ongoing Projects 

RoboScientist: Falling Paper Experiment

Description: Robotic system that is able to conduct large-scale physical experimentation of falling papers.
Researchers: Toby Howison, Josie Hughes, Simon Hauser
Publication: PLoS ONE, Nature Machine Intelligence
Video: Falling Papers, Experiments

Agri-Food Robotics

Description: This project explores the use of robotics technologies in agricultural industry, especially for unhealthy and tedious jobs for humans.
Researchers: Simon Birrell, Josie Hughes, Luca Scimeca
Publications: JFR, RAL
Video: Vegebot1, Vegebot2, LeafPeeling

Anthropomorphic robot hand manipulation

Description: Human-like dexterous manipulation is still a considerable challenge for robots. This project investigates bio-inspired musculoskeletal design of robotic hands to understand human hand manipulation as well as to design and control of robot hands.
Researchers: Utku Culha, Josie Hughes, Kieran Gilday
Publications: BioBio, Science Robotics
Video: UtkuHand, PianoHand1, PianoHand2

Soft Robot Sensing

Description: Sensing of large deformable bodies plays a crucial role in soft robotics. This project explores functional materials, material fabrication and implementation to improve soft robot control.
Researchers: Utku Culha, Surya Nurzaman, Josie Hughes, Thomas George Thuruthel
Publications:SoRo, Sensors, PLoS One
Video: SVAS3, SensorisedUniversalGripper, AdaptiveSensorMorphology

Previous Projects 

Physical Robot Evolution

Description: While mechanical changes are common in biological systems (e.g. via growth and evolution), conventional robots are not able to change their bodies once built. This project explores autonomous design and fabrication technologies such that robots can adaptively vary their own mechanical bodies for better functionalities in complex tasks and environments.
Researchers: Luzius Brodbeck, Liyu Wang, Vuk Vujovic, Andre Rosendo, Toby Howison
Publications:PLoS One, ALife, RoySocInterface
Video: RobotInventor, RobotInventor2, EvoDevoExperiments, ToolBuildingAndUse

Amazon Robotics Challenge: CambridgeARM Project

Picking and place into boxes from shelving remains one of the key challenges in a warehouse environment. As a driver for research, we are competing on the Amazon Robotics Challenge focusing on the development of robust vision systems, determing relevant gripping points and developing an adgile manipulator to allow manipulation of a number of items. More information can be found here.

Thermoplastic Adhesives for Robots

Description: Robotic growth and morphological change will increase the adaptability of a robotic system facing unanticipated task-environments. The research area focuses on development of mechanisms for robotic growth and morphological change based on Thermoplastic Adhesives (TPAs), also known as ‘hot glue’. TPAs are economic, off-the-shelf, and they have several interesting properties. They can form flexible or rigid structures by means of existing fast-prototyping techniques and can be also used as an easy and strong connection mechanism, which are important technologies towards robotic growth and morphological change. 
Researchers: Liyu Wang, Luzius Brodbeck, Derek Leach, Utku Culha, Surya G. Nurzaman, Keith Gunura
Publications:IROS 2013IEEE/ASME-TMECHBioRob 2012ICRA 2012IROS 2012PLOS ONE
Media coverage:Daily MailNBC NewsPopular ScienceNew ScientistRSI ChannelIEEE SpectrumETH Globe Magazine
Videos: SpiderRobot, SoftRobotGluing

Emergence of Reflexive Behavior

Description: Developmental robotics is located at the intersection of developmental sciences and robotics. The main goal of this field of research is to investigate how a creature can develop increasingly complex behaviors autonomously. In this particular project we use self-organization principles to develop reflexive behavior in a simulated leg model. Using the same self-organization principles, we have obtained analogues of the myotatic, the reverse myotatic, the reciprocal inhibition, and the withdrawal reflexes, which have been identified in the mammal spinal chord. 
Researchers:Hugo Gravato Marques
Publications:Current BiologyBiological Cybernetics
Videos:Reflex Learning and Jumping

Unconventional Clutch-Based Actuators

Description: Variable stiffness and damping mechanisms can increase versatility and efficiency of legged locomotion. This research area focuses on the development of lightweight, powerful and simple variable actuators. A number of different methods and materials are explored in the development process of legged robots such as carbon fibers and glass fibers for springs, variable stiffness mechanisms, non-linear springs and passive mechanisms as well as brakes and clutches to create multi modal actuators. 
Researchers:Fabian GüntherDerek Leach
Publications: IROS 2013, IEEE/ASME-TMECHIROS 2012IROS 2012AMAM 2011
Videos:Preloaded Hopping with ETHop and LMMAOpen loop Hopping with ETHopDouble Pendulum

Energy Efficient Legged Locomotion Based on Parallel Elastic Mechanisms

Description: During free vibration process, potential and kinetic energy are exchanged without energy loss. Based on this property, this project aims to design robots with energetically efficient locomotion. The elastic curved beam is demonstrated to perform well using free vibration in the experiment. Due to different design of structure, multiple locomotion gaits including hopping, walking and running, can be achieved. Furthermore, a number of models and simulation are used to investigate the dynamics of robot, which supplies the theory to explore optimal control methods. 
Researchers:Xiaoxiang Yu, Fabian Günther, Surya Nurzaman
Publications:TMECHALifeTIE, ICRA 2013, IROS 2012AIM 2012AIM 2011AMC 2012, AMAM 2013, Dynamic Walking 2012, ICMC 2011 
Videos: Cargo, Kanga, Quad

Assistive Mechatronic Posture Support

Description: Using passive and low energy components the goal of this project is to develop a power efficient and comfortable posture support device which allows the user to stand for long periods of time as well as walking and climbing stair. The device absorbs the body weight of the user and redirects it away from the knee. This reduces the stress on the knees and muscles and therefore the risk of pain and injuries. The device is equipped with a high performance variable hydraulic damper. The damping can be varied from very low to very high damping and ultimately brake. The control of this damper allows different applications of the device in the industrial, rehabilitation and medical field. 
Researchers:Bryan Anastasiades, Keith Gunura
Publications: Patent

Large-Payload Climbing Robots for Complex Vertical Environments

Description: Robotic climbing in complex vertical environments has been a challenge, especially when the irregularity in the environment is with a close dimension to a robot itself. The project proposed a robotic climbing technology based on thermoplastic adhesives, with whom a physical process of thermal bonding helps increase the adhesion strength, and whose rheological property enables conforming to large-scale irregularities in complex environments.
Researchers:Liyu Wang
BSc and MSc students: Lina Graber, Remo Bernet, Fabian Neuschaffer, Marc Osswald
Publications:IEEE-TRORASIROS 2011ICRA 2012IROS 2012;
Media coverage:New ScientistUPI NewsDiscovery ChannelFocus MagazineIEEE Spectrum
Videos:A flat surfacecomplex environmentsa large payload

MR ESS (Energetically Self Sufficient)

Description: Autonomous mobile robots must be able to deal with the various uncertainties that emerge from the interaction with the real world. Thus the estimation of unmeasurable state variables from measurable ones, is a required cognitive process that permits adaptive robots to successfully overcome the various challenging problems derived. This project aims at finding the binding between the physical and the mental simulation dynamics. Was named mental simulation the from us developed computational strategy. 
Researchers:Liyu Wang
BSc and MSc students: Kevin Frey, Rohit Vaish, Cristian Montillo 
Media coverage:NZZ Campus Magazine
Videos:Q Learning

Compass Gait Robot Locomotion in Rough Terrain

Description: The challenge of this project is to develop a controller with which the compass gait robot can walk through a series of steps and gaps on the ground.
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA) Video

Underactuated Legged Robot Locomotion

Description: This project investigates mechanical designs and optimization processes of legged robot systems, which can traverse rough terrains. 
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA)

Human-like Biped Locomotion

Description: This project explores the underlying mechanisms of human locomotion by using a biped robot with compliant legs. 
(University of Jena, Germany) (Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG, SE1042)) 

Sensing through Body Dynamics

Description: The use of body dynamics can be used for the perception of sensory systems. We challenging how the perception, control, and body dynamics are related each other 
(University of Zurich, Switzerland) (Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Grant No. 200021-109210/1) 

“Cheap” Underwater Locomotion

Description: Material properties of body influence significantly underwater for the purpose of locomotion. In this project, we investigate how much behavioral diversity can be achieved through the minimum control and actuation. 
(University of Zurich, Switzerland) (Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Grant No. 200021-109210/1) 

Puppy: Cheap Rapid Legged Locomotion

Description: This project investigates musculoskeletal models for rapid four-legged locomotion. The coordination of rigid and elastic structures results in a form of running behavior with simple control architecture. 
(University of Zurich, Switzerland) (Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Grant No. 200021-109210/1) 

Stumpy: Pendulum Driven Hopping Machines

Description: By considering morphological properties, we show that human-like behavioral diversity can be achieved only with simple control and actuation. 
(University of Zurich, Switzerland) 

Biological Inspired 3D visual Navigation

Description: Bees have sophisticated visual sensory systems for the purpose of navigation. By using an omni-directional vision which reproduces the perspective of animals, we attempt to model the cognitive function which enables the learning process of navigation. 
(University of Zurich, Switzerland) (Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Grant No 2000-061372.00) 

Active non-verbal Interaction of Face Robot

Description: Face Robot is capable of exhibiting a variety of facial expression by using the artificial muscles. We investigate how the non-verbal communication between human and machine can be possible through facial expression.
(Science University of Tokyo, Japan)