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GRASP Student Seminar Series: Elizabeth Hunter, University of Pennsylvania, “Microscale Robotic Wetware: Synthetic and Biological Mechanisms for Actuation, Control, and Sensing”

March 4, 2020 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Microrobot systems have the potential to enhance operations or open entirely new avenues in domains ranging from medicine to manufacturing. Yet, the behaviors of microrobots do not match the sophistication of their biological peers, such as microorganisms and insects. For instance, microorganisms sense, process, and respond to environmental cues in order to locomote, assemble, replicate, or repair themselves. In order to unlock the full potential of microrobotics, it is essential to develop small-scale fabrication, actuation, sensing, and control strategies, which underpin the complex behaviors seen in natural systems.

This talk will highlight a new paradigm for microrobot design and fabrication. I have designed a new class of microscale robot systems, which I call ‘robotic wetware,’ in which synthetic hardware and software is interfaced with programmable living cells. I will describe this framework in the context of soft micro bio robots (SMBRs), the first microrobot platform which incorporates on-board components derived from synthetic biology. I will discuss how SMBRs were designed to harbor a suite of low-level functions including actuation and sensing, as well as higher-order capabilities such as manufacturing and delivery. I will then introduce strategies for multi-microrobot control, and discuss my approach to equip teams of diamagnetically levitated milliscale robots with manipulators such that they function as mobile assistants in microbiological experiments. I will conclude by proposing a suite of technologies to enable autonomous swarms of micro- to milli-scale robots for monitoring environments, delivering therapeutics, or self-assembling to form functional materials.


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Elizabeth Hunter is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania. She is advised in her dissertation by Professor Vijay Kumar within Penn’s GRASP Lab. Her research focuses on creating micro- to milli-scale robot systems including strategies for fabrication, actuation, control, and sensing at small-scales. Her work has been selected as a finalist for the Best Automation Paper Award at the 2015 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), and as a finalist for the Best Student Paper Award at the 2018 International Conference on Manipulation, Automation, and Robotics at Small-Scales (MARSS). Elizabeth is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and has been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in Science.


March 4, 2020
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
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