11:55 AM - *SM06.02.05
Soft BioRobotics—Rethinking Material Role for Life-Like Robot Behaviour
Cecilia Laschi1,2,Matteo Cianchetti2,Leonardo Ricotti2,Marcello Calisti2,Hilda Gòmez Bernal2
National University of Singapore1,Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna2
BioRobotics is a successful approach for designing robots from and for living beings. Bioinspired robot design is based on principles observed and modelled on living beings. In a beneficial loop, bioinspired robots also contribute to gain insight in biology. Either bioinspired or not, biorobots are those applied in the biomedical field.
A lesson learnt from living beings is that the physical body has a more important role in shaping intelligence than we think. Behaviour is not only controlled by the computation happening in the nervous system but emerges from the interaction of the body with the environment. It then depends on the physical properties of the body itself, on its morphology, on the environment it is operating in. This concept of embodied intelligence brought to rethink bodyware in robotics. Compliance became key and either compliant joints or soft materials have been used.
In this scenario, recent advances in materials, smart materials and fabrication techniques are enabling the development of soft robots, with new technologies for actuation, sensing, control, energy supply. Among the many possible applications of soft robots are the biomedical ones, e.g. surgery, prosthetics, rehabilitation . Soft robotics technologies can also be used for building biomimetic organs or physical models of human body parts. The EU HybridHeart project is developing a fully soft artificial heart. A physical model of vocal cords was developed for studying larynx physiology and pathologies.
Bioinspired soft robots find applications in explorations, in natural environments. They can access remote areas, confined spaces, complex or collapsed structures, both in land and at sea. Marine applications of soft robots give interesting challenges and opportunities for developing bioinspired swimming and locomotion. While current underwater robots operate in the water column, soft robots can afford the interaction with the seabed or underwater plants .
Soft robots open up unprecedent abilities. The classical robot abilities of manipulation and locomotion assume new forms and new abilities become possible, like morphing, growing, self-healing, biodegrading . Soft robots enable a vision for life-like abilities and behaviour, thanks to the bioinspired principles they embed and to the materials they are built of. In this framework, bio-hybrid robots are another intriguing paradigm, pursuing the integration between artificial materials and living cells/tissues. The unique features of living cells, optimized by millions of years of natural evolution, can be actually exploited to enable specific robot abilities and to achieve robots scaling toward small dimensions .
Overall, soft biorobots support a vision for future robots where they have a full life cycle, in analogy to living beings . They are born but grow in body and intelligence, they learn and adapt their bodies, find their energy, self-heal their bodies and biodegrade at the end of their life. The vision for life-like robot behaviour is still in its infancy but shows an enormous potential. It provides challenges and opportunities for revolutionizing robotics and for exploring new materials and fabrications schemes.
 M. Cianchetti, C. Laschi, “Pleasant to the touch”, IEEE Pulse Magazine, 3, 34-37, 2016
 G. Picardi, M. Chellapurath, S. Iacoponi, S. Stefanni, C. Laschi, M. Calisti. "Bioinspired underwater legged robot for seabed exploration with low environmental disturbance", Science Robotics 5(42), 2020
 C. Laschi, M. Cianchetti, B. Mazzolai, “Soft robotics: Technologies and systems pushing the boundaries of robot abilities”, Science Robotics 1(1), 2016
 L. Ricotti, B. Trimmer, A.W. Feinberg, et al., “Biohybrid actuators for robotics: A review of devices actuated by living cells”, Science Robotics 2(12), 2017
 B. Mazzolai, C. Laschi, “A vision for future bioinspired and biohybrid robots”, Science Robotics 5(1), 2020