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

March 4, 2011 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

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

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.


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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.


March 4, 2011
11:00 am - 12:00 pm
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