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Fall 2023 GRASP SFI: Robert Baines, ETH Zürich, “Material system design for predictable shape-morphing robots”

September 27, 2023 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

This was a hybrid event with in-person attendance in Levine 307 and virtual attendance. This week’s speaker was virtual. 


Robots are traditionally designed with immutable physical hardware and control policies that make them specialized for repetitive, structured tasks and environments. This talk presents work toward robots that actively change shape to accomplish a variety of tasks in diverse environments. Shape-changing robots are pursued at two levels. First, I will discuss the design and modeling of shape-morphing components, including variable stiffness materials and variable-trajectory soft actuators. Component-level analysis leads to insight into how actively tunable stiffness differentials can yield myriad deformations. Inverse models that recapitulate shape-morphing components’ highly nonlinear geometric and material behavior allow for systematic mechanical programming of shape-morphing robotic function. These foundational studies inform the second part of the talk, in which I will discuss how shape-morphing components are applied to create an adaptive amphibious quadruped robot. Harnessing active stiffness-tuning materials, the robot features limbs that switch between programmed shapes for effective propulsion in multiple environments. The robot testifies to the efficacy of “adaptive morphogenesis,” a design strategy that leverages shape-morphing and gait adaptability to improve performance across multiple environments.


Robert Baines

Robert Baines

Robert Baines is a postdoctoral fellow in the Robotic Systems Lab at ETH Zurich. He received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Yale University. With the goal of improving robots’ versatility across different tasks and environments, his research seeks to endow robots with shape-changing capabilities, touching upon topics in soft-bodied actuation and sensing, locomotion, and inverse design. He is the recipient of several awards, including the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, ETH Postdoctoral Fellowship, and Branco Weiss Society in Science Postdoctoral Fellowship. His work on robots that “evolve on demand” has been featured on the cover of Nature and disseminated by dozens of media outlets worldwide.


September 27, 2023
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Event Category:


Levine 307
3330 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104 United States
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