Robots have been successful in the applications which require speed, power and precision, but very limited where soft and delicate interactions are necessary. In this context the use of soft functional materials opened the door to a range of new types of machines, soft robots, that can not only interact with soft objects in the environment but also make robots themselves into soft structures for better adaptability in different situations. We have been exploring a set of alternative technologies to design and construct complex soft robots, such as multi-material 3D printing, electrically conductive elastomers, and model-free design automation processes. With the recent rapid progress of these technologies, we are able to develop new kinds of robots that we can characterise as “morphologically computing machines”. We are exploring how such a new paradigm of design processes can be realised, though there are a number of known challenges such as design of complex mechanical structures, sensing of physical interactions, and modelling, simulation and control in general. In this talk, I would like to introduce some of our recent soft robotics projects in our laboratory and their extension to model free design automation.
Fumiya Iida is a reader at Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge. He received his bachelor and master degrees in mechanical engineering at Tokyo University of Science (Japan, 1999), and Dr. sc. nat. in Informatics at University of Zurich (2006). In 2004 and 2005, he was also engaged in biomechanics research of human locomotion at Locomotion Laboratory, University of Jena (Germany). From 2006 to 2009, he worked as a postdoctoral associate at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in USA. In 2006, he awarded the Fellowship for Prospective Researchers from the Swiss National Science Foundation, and in 2009, the Swiss National Science Foundation Professorship for an assistant professorship at ETH Zurich from 2009 to 2015. He was a recipient of the IROS2016 Fukuda Young Professional Award, and Royal Society Translation Award in 2017. His research interest includes biologically inspired robotics, embodied artificial intelligence, and biomechanics, where he was involved in a number of research projects related to dynamic legged locomotion, dextrous and adaptive manipulation, human-machine interactions, and evolutionary robotics.