Analogous to the fields of aerodynamics of flight and hydrodynamics of swimming, my lab is creating terradynamics of locomotion in complex terrain, by developing experimental tools and theoretical models to systematically study and understand how animals and robots physically interact with the terrain to move through. Such fundamental advancement will ultimately help robots robustly traverse terrain like earthquake rubble for search and rescue and Martian rocks for planetary exploration.
Despite decades of research, our understanding of physical principles of terrestrial locomotion has been relatively limited to near-steady-state, single-mode locomotion (e.g., running, walking, climbing, slithering). In this talk, I will highlight my lab’s recent research towards creating “statistical mechanics” of locomotor transitions, by developing energy landscapes to understand how insects and legged robots probabilistically transition between different locomotor modes to traverse complex terrain. I will also talk about how body lateral oscillation and compliance together help limbless snakes stably traverse large obstacles by suppressing failure mode transitions and inspire a robot that outperforms previous snake robots.
Chen Li is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, and affiliated with JHU’s Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics (LCSR). Dr. Li received his B.S. degree from Peking University in 2005 and Ph.D. degree from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2011, both in physics. From 2012 to 2015, he performed postdoctoral research in Integrative Biology and Robotics at University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Li is recipient of a Miller Research Fellowship from University of California, Berkeley in 2012, a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface in 2015, an Army Research Office Young Investigator Award in 2017, and a Beckman Young Investigator Award in 2018. His research achievements have been recognized by publication in journals including Science and PNAS, as well as selection for one best paper (Advanced Robotics 2017), two highlight papers (IROS 2016, Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 2015), and two best student papers (SICB 2009, RSS 2012). He has also been selected as an alumnus of the Kavli Frontiers of Science of National Academy of Sciences.