Section News

Watch Again | Soft Robots Interacting with Humans and Other Fragile Objects by Professor Kaspar Althoefer

With the ever-increasing demand for robots to cooperate and collaborate with humans, comes the need for increasingly sophisticated technologies capable of physically interacting with their environment in a safe way.

The development of soft robots has been considerable over the recent past. However, more research efforts are needed to create robotic devices that can actually conduct relevant tasks in the vicinity of or when in contact with humans. Soft robots also show a lot of promise for the manipulation of fragile objects as, for example, required for the automated handling of fruit and vegetable in the agri-food area. Important is also the development of soft tactile sensors in this context, enabling soft robots to perceive their environments and to achieve reliable object manipulation in a closed-loop control scheme.

This webinar reports on the advancements at the Centre for Advanced Robotics @ Queen Mary (ARQ) in soft robots focussing on pneumatically actuated silicone and fabric-based robotic structures. The created robotic structures are capable of naturally adapting to their environment and also adjusting their stiffness. The interplay between adaptability to the environment and stiffness adjustability increases the range of the robot’s motion capabilities and dexterity: the resulting robots lend themselves for applications where humans and robots interact and where robots manipulate their environment. Applications include rehabilitation, minimally invasive surgery, nuclear environments, and the construction industry.

The presentation shows recently fabricated soft and inflatable robotic structures, operating in a range of environments.

Professor Althoefer is an experienced roboticist leading competitively funded research on soft robotics, intelligent micro-sensing systems and interaction dynamics modelling with applications in minimally invasive surgery, assistive technologies, and human-robot interaction at Queen Mary University of London. He acquired in excess of £5.7M as Principal Investigator from national/international funding bodies and successfully completed 22 PhD projects.

Professor Althoefer’s research team, currently comprising 10 postdoctoral research associates and PhD students, is involved in funded collaborative research with leading London hospitals, European research organisations and international companies creating novel robot-assisted solutions for cardiac catheterisation, foetal ultrasound monitoring, tissue diagnosis using miniaturised stiffness sensors and ergonomically-optimised human-robot interaction.

Over the last decade, the team has built a large portfolio of projects in application-oriented research for the healthcare and manufacturing sectors with funding from organisations such as EPSRC, European Commission (including coordination of two EU-projects), Wellcome Trust and UK-based charities, exceeding £30M and producing more than 250 peer-reviewed papers.