Spring 2011 GRASP Seminar - Richard Voyles, NSF & University of Denver, "Structured Computational Polymers: Intelligent Materials for Next-Generation Robotics"

Abstract: Robotics and Cyber-Physical Systems are ushering in a new age of engineering design with new techniques and new materials. The old way of design in which we assume decoupled, low-order, block-diagonal models is breaking down at all levels and all scales. This presents numerous problems as our ad hoc design methods are not able to properly account for, test and validate systems of greatly increasing complexity. But it also presents numerous opportunities for new capabilities, such as soft robotics, in which the behavior of a designed artifact is tightly coupled to its environment.

In this talk, I will describe steps we are taking towards the fabrication of new types of intelligent polymers as building blocks for soft robots. Using shape deposition manufacturing techniques, we are attempting to produce 1-D, 2-D and 3-D stock polymers that incorporate sensing, actuation, cognition, and structure into convenient, specifiable components. Our cognitive architecture is based on fully-interconnected Synthetic Neural Networks, which implement parallel artificial neurons from polymer electronics. We have produced memristors (bistable, programmable resistors) to create artificial synapses and have a simple design for a single-transistor artificial soma to achieve a sigmoidal activation function, yielding the possibility of producing synthetic, trainable, massively parallel cognitive circuits. Our actuation mechanisms, which traditionally have been difficult to achieve in all-polymer materials with usable power levels, are based on active and passive fluids. We are using "active" fluid-based actuation schemes, such as water hammer based impulsive actuation, to channel meaningful forces for actuation as well as "passive" fluid-based actuation from electrorheological and magnetorheological fluids which can be used to dampen forces.

Presenter's biography

Dr. Voyles received the B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University in 1983, the M.S. in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University in 1989, and the Ph.D. in Robotics from the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in 1997. He is currently a Program  Director in the Cyber Physical Systems program and Major Research Instrumentation program at the National Science Foundation and a Senior Member of the IEEE. On leave from the University of Denver, Dr. Voyles is an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Previously, he was Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Minnesota and a Site Director of the NSF Safety, Security, and Rescue Research Center. Dr.Voyles' research interests are in the areas of cyber physical systems, robotics and artificial intelligence. Specifically, he is interested in the development of small, resource-constrained robots and robot teams for urban search and rescue and surveillance. Dr. Voyles has additional expertise in sensors and sensor calibration, particularly haptic and force sensors, manipulation and real-time control. Dr. Voyles' industrial experience includes Dart Controls, IBM Corp., Integrated Systems, Inc., and Avanti Optics as well as three start-up companies. He has also served on the boards of various start-ups and non-profit groups, including The Works, a hands-on, minds-on engineering discovery center.

United States


Richard Voyles