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ONR: SEA-STAR: Soft Echinoderm-Inspired Appendages for Strong Tactile Amphibious Robots

Faculty 

Wereley, Norman (AE)
Majidi, Carmel (CMU)
Weaver, James (Harvard)

Funding Agency 

Office of Naval Research

Description 

Associate Professor Derek Paley (AE/ISR) is the principal investigator for a $2 million grant from the Office of Naval Research’s Basic Research Challenge Program. Co-principal investigators on the “SEA-STAR: Soft Echinoderm-Inspired Appendages for Strong Tactile Amphibious Robots” grant are Aerospace Engineering Chair Norman Wereley (AE), Associate Professor Carmel Majidi (Carnegie Mellon University), Senior Research Scientist James Weaver (Harvard University), and Professor Robert Wood (Harvard University).

The researchers will create soft underwater robot appendages that mimic functionality found in sea stars, brittle stars and basket stars. These animals are known as “radially symmetrical echinoderms.”

The long-term goal of the SEA-STAR project is to develop a functionally hierarchical architecture and distributed control scheme for the robot appendages that will give them dexterity and allow them to operate with a high force-to-compliance ratio. The hierarchical design will be inspired by the complex organization seen in the echinoderms---endoskeletal elements, water vascular systems, and tube-feet arrays.

The SEA-STAR robotic appendages will be controlled by a network of embedded sensors and hydraulic actuators. These will provide shape proprioception (grasping) and local closed-loop control. The researchers have combined expertise in echinoderm anatomy, soft and bio-inspired robotics, the mechanics of materials and tribology, multi-material 3D printing, and distributed sensing and control of underwater robotic systems.

The ONR Basic Research Challenge Program was established to competitively select and fund promising research programs in new areas. The program stimulates new, high-risk basic research projects that have naval relevance with the hope of attracting new investigators to the Office of Naval Research.