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Plenary Talk


April 6, Wednesday 9:00-10:00

Bio-inspired approaches in robotics:

towards a new generation of adaptive systems

The BioRobotics Institute Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna and IIT Center of Micro-BioRobotics@SSSA, Pisa, Italy

This lecture addresses the embryonic research area of life-like machines, the development of novel bio-inspired and biomimetic technologies and the resulting emergence of many new applications for robotics.

The development of high performance, complex artificial systems, like robots, requires design methods and enabling technologies not presently available nor reachable by merely applying current engineering paradigms. There is a need for sources of inspiration that spur to think “out of the box”, and Nature can be an extraordinarily rich and matchless reference for conceiving and designing novel robotic systems.

Key theories and technologies for the development of new adaptive machines and high performance interactive systems will be discussed, describing how they arise from the joint effort of life-science scientists and engineers. These new systems can be exploited both as artificial models for scientific investigation and as pervasive and safe devices, with an increased degree of autonomy, for human use and assistance and for environmental or field applications.

In this lecture, the rationale for developing bio-inspired robots will be presented and discussed. Then, examples of the aforementioned paradigms will be provided, with reference to several biological models (the so-called “BioRobotic  Zoo”) currently investigated in our laboratories.

In particular, the problem of friction in oligochaetae locomotion will be considered with the aim of achieving insight on basic locomotion modes in worms, as well as on developing a new generation of painless colonoscopy devices. Undulatory motion in polychaetae will be analyzed in order to derive new computational models of locomotion kinematics, for field robotics applications.

Undulatory motion will be also presented with reference to the lamprey model. In this case, attention will be focused on the integration and validation of neuroscientific models of goal-driven locomotion. A novel lamprey-like autonomous and compliant swimming artefact will be described, as a paradigm of frontier-research approaches for neuro-inspired control strategies involving distributed sensory-motor hardware and software, and of actuation principles that are functionally bio-inspired (muscle-like) and highly energy efficient.

Scale effects in locomotion will be also addressed, focusing on the case of jumping in small animals (e.g.: crickets). This model provides inspiration on high efficiency locomotion within centimeter-sized robotic systems, that have been developed and experimentally characterized.

Furthermore, the octopus model will be presented as a paradigm of embodied intelligence and soft robotics, offering unique hints to understand the biomechanics, kinematics, dynamics and control of soft bodies, and inspiration to develop novel robots with increased performance in terms of dexterity, control, flexibility and applicability. In addition, the very stimulating case of collective behavior of animal models will be analyzed in order to understand swarm behavior and to develop swarm robotic systems. Finally, the case of plant roots will be presented in order to develop a plant-like robotic system, or plantoid, for soil exploration.

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