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Manuel Catalano


Research Line

Soft Robotics for Human Cooperation and Rehabilitation


IIT Central Research Labs Genova


Via Morego 30, Genova, Italy
+39 010 71781
Contact Me



I'm a Researcher at IIT-ADVR under the research line SoftRobotics for Human Cooperation and Rehabilitation. I'm also Research Fellow at Centro di Ricerca E. Piaggio - University of Pisa, and at MayoClinic, Rochester, USA. I received the Laurea degree in mechanical engineering and the doctoral degree in robotics and bionengineering from the E. Piaggio Research Center at the University of Pisa. My main research interests are in the design of Soft Robotics systems, Human Robot Interaction, Prosthetics and Rehabilitaion. In 2014, i was the winner of the Georges Giralt PhD Award, the prestigious annual European award given for the best PhD thesis by euRobotics AISBL. During my PhD studies and early carrier, I had the opportunity to work on a wide range of theories and methods, many of which I applied to several robotics and rehabilitative applications that are now being applied in the real world. My PhD thesis contains some of the main results of two important research projects (SoftHands, ERC Advanced Grant, led by Prof. A. Bicchi and SAPHARI, EC FP7, led by Prof. A. de Luca). The Pisa/IIT SoftHand, an open-source synergistic heavily under-actuated hand, and the VSA- Cube, an open-source soft robotic actuator adopted in the NMMI Platform, are two of the main achievements in my background. Recent results of my contributions are the prosthetic hand SoftHand Pro, for which I am leading the research and development activities; the Walk-Man platform, a humanoid robot designed for the DARPA Robotic Challenge, for which I led the mechanical development of the actuation units, hands and lower body, the SoftFoot a proof- of-concept soft robotic foot, on which I’m leading the research studies and development, and EGO a soft humanoid robot for physical interaction in autonomus, and teleoperated contexts, for which i'm leading the mechatronics development.

Slide5Most of the technologies that I developed reached, today, a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 6/7. The Pisa/IIT SoftHand, the SoftHand Pro and the VSA-Cubes, are approaching a TRL of 8 (Market Ready). Roughly, is it possible to count more than forty groups, all over the world, that are using and testing these devices, e.g.: OCADO Industries, Disney Research, EPFL, Mayo Clinic, Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, Rice University, DLR, TUM, University Hospital of Zurich, Medical School of Hannover, Arizona State Univeristy, Florida International Universty. Walk-Man is in continuous evolution and, thanks to a fruitful collaboration with Italian Civil Corps, I had the opportunity to lead field experiments with this platform on a real post-quake scenario (Amatrice, Italy, Nov. 2016).

are complex systems, them cannot be made by a single, but it are a result of a team. My personal contributions, in all my works, has been on: invention and ideation, mechanical design, and design of the electro-mechanical architecure (within a lively interactive framework of control algorithms co-design), coordination of the different design activities of all subsystems. My research is published on more than 50 peer reviewed papers, and well cited by scholars. Total citations = 1575 (Google Scholar), 1043 (Scopus); h-index = 19 (Google Scholar), 17 (Scopus).

- Co-Founder of “Natural Machine Motion Initiative”, [2012], an Open-Source community and platform for SoftRobotics. Initiative supported and Hosted by Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia e Centro di Ricerca “E. Piaggio”- Università di Pisa. 
- Co-founder of “qbrobotics s.r.l.”, [2012], a spin-off company of Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia e Centro di Ricerca “E. Piaggio”- Università di Pisa.
 Associate Editor

- IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, RA-L, 2015-current
- IEEE International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics Associate Editor, ICORR, 2017-current
- IEEE Mediterranean Conference on Control and Automation, MED, 2017-current
- IEEE RAS/EMBS International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics, BIOROB, 2018
- IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, IROS, 2018

Main Robotic Systems Developed
- Actuators: VSA-HD, VSA-Cube, qbmove, Walk-Man actuation units;
- End-Effectors: PISA/IIT SoftHand, Walk- Man SoftHand, SoftHand 2, SoftHand-D, SoftGripper, Velvet Fingers, SoftFoot, SoftHand Underwater;
- Prosthetic Hands: SoftHand Pro, SoftHand Pro-H, SoftHand 2 Pro;
- Haptic Devices: CUFF, Stretch Pro;
- Sensing Devices: Thimble Sense, ExoSense, IMU Glove;
- Humanoid Robots: Walk-Man, qbmate, EGO;
- Robotic Manipulators: VSA-Soft Delta, VSA-SoftArm, Casting Manipulator;
- Robots: Soft Snake, 2-DOF Helicopter, David Rover.
Curriculum Vitae



Soft Robotics; Humanoids; Artificial Hands; Robotics for Manipulation and Logistics; Prosthetics and Rehabilitation;


Partecipant or WorkPackage leader:

  • SoftPro: Synergy-Based Open-Source Foundations and Technologies for Prosthetics and rehabilitation
  • ERC SoftHand Pro-H
  • SOMA: Soft-bodied intelligence for Manipulation 
  • THING: subTerranean Haptic INvestiGator Project
  • ILIAD: Intra-Logistics with Integrated Automatic Deployment: safe and scalable fleets in shared spaces
  • Walk-Man: Whole Body Adaptive Locomotion and Manipulation
  • ERC SoftHand: a theory of soft synergies for a new generation of artificial hands
  • INAIL-IIT: Rehabilitation Technologies [2014]
  • NIH-R21 founded project: Study of Prosthetic Hand
  • MAYO Clinic founded project: Study of Prosthetic Hands
  • SAPHARI: Safe and Autonomous Physical Human-Aware Robot Interaction
  • VIACTORS: Variable Impedance Actuation systems embodying advanced interaction behaviors
  • PHRIENDS: Physical Human-Robot Interaction: Dependability and Safety
  • THE: The Hand Embodied
  • ROBLOG: Cognitive Robot For Automation of Logistic Processes
  • PACMAN: Probabilistic and Compositional Representations of Objects for Robotic anipulation
  • WEARHAP: Wearable Haptics for Humans and Robots
  • MAGNA Closures: projects in collaboration with
  • HANDS.DVI: an ECHORD++ European Clearing House for Open Robotics Development

Selected Publications

Humanoid Robots
Tsagarakis N.G., Catalano M. G., et al, WALK-MAN: A High-Performance Humanoid Platform for Realistic Environments, Journal of Field Robotics, vol. 34, (no. 7), pp. 1225-1259
Video Link: Walk-Man

Negrello G, Catalano M. G., et al, Humanoids at Work: The WALK-MAN Robot in a Post-earthquake Scenario, IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, In Press
Video Link: Walk-Man, Filed Experiments in Amatrice, Italy

Robotic Hands
Catalano M. G., et al., Adaptive Synergies for the Design and Control of the Pisa/IIT SoftHand, International Journal of Robotics Research, vol. 33, no. 5, pp. 768–782, 2014.
Video Link: Pisa/IIT SoftHand, a Soft Artificial Hand for Robots and Humans

Industrial End-Effectors
V. Tincani, M. G. Catalano, et al., Velvet Fingers: A Smart Gripper with Controlled Contact Surfaces, International Conference of Intelligent Robots and Systems - IROS 2012, Vilamoura, Algarve, Portugal, October 7 - 12 2012.
Video Link: Velvet Fingers

Prosthetic Hands
C. Piazza, Catalano M. G., et al., The SoftHand Pro-H: A Hybrid Body-Controlled, Electrically Powered Hand Prosthesis for Daily Living and Working, in IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 87-101, Dec. 2017.
Video Link: SoftHand Pro-H; Video Link: SoftHand Pro

Haptic Systems
S. Fani, Catalano M.G., et al., Simplifying Telerobotics: Wearability and Teleimpedance Improves Human-Robot Interactions in Teleoperation, in IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 77-88, March 2018.
Video Link: CUFF

Soft Robotic Actuators
C. Della Santina, Manuel G. Catalano, et al., The Quest for Natural Machine Motion: An Open Platform to Fast-Prototyping Articulated Soft Robots, in IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 48-56, March 2017.
Video Link: Natural Machine Motion Platform

Control of Soft Robots
C. Della Santina, Catalano M. G., et al., Controlling Soft Robots: Balancing Feedback and Feedforward Elements, in IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 75-83, Sept. 2017.

2016 UA2016A003457, Mano Artificiale, A. Bicchi, M. G. Catalano, G. Grioli, C. della Santina, C. Piazza, M. Garabini
2015 PCT/IB2016/056468, Underactuated robotic hand, A. Bicchi, M. G. Catalano, G. Grioli, C. della Santina, C. Piazza, M. Garabini 
2015 IT102015000068000, Mano Robotica, A. Bicchi, M. G. Catalano, G. Grioli, C. della Santina, C. Piazza, A. Brando
2010 EP10188315.5, Variable pliability actuator, A. Bicchi, M. G. Catalano, G. Grioli, M. Garabini 
2010 US9227328 (B2), Variable pliability actuator, A. Bicchi, M. G. Catalano, G. Grioli, M. Garabini 
2009 ITPI20110057 (A1), Meccanismo elastico non lineare a caratteristica programmabile, A. Bicchi, M. G. Catalano, G. Grioli, M. Garabini 


Best European PhD Thesis - Georges Giralt Award, 2014, Rovereto, Italy

Winner “Soft Robotics: Design for Simplicity, Performance, and Robustness of Robots for Interaction with Humans”

ISPO Blatchford Award 20172017, Cape Town, South Africa

Shortlist of six finalists“SoftHand Pro”

Italian Orthopedic Award - Category “Projects”2016, Bologna, Italy

Finalist“SoftHand. Soft. Smart. Robust.”



AIM 2017 - Best Paper Award, 2017, Munich, Germany

Finalist,“Design and Characterisation of a Novel High-Compliance Spring for Robots with Soft Joints”

WORLD HAPTICS 2017 - Best Paper Award2017, Munich, Germany

Finalist“The Rice Haptic Rocker: skin stretch haptic feedback with the Pisa/IIT SoftHand.”

HUMANOIDS 2015 - Best Interactive Paper Award2015, Seoul, Sud Korea

Winner “Dexterity augmentation on a synergistic hand: the Pisa/IIT SoftHand+”

HUMANOIDS 2012 - Best Paper Award2012, Osaka, Japan

Winner“Adaptive Synergies for a Humanoid Robot Hand”

IROS 2012 - Best Jubilee Video Award2012, Vilamura, Portugal

Winner“Variable Impedance Actuators: Moving the Robots of Tomorrow”



IROS 2016: Robotic Grasping and Manipulation Competition2016,Daejeon, Korea

Winner, Hand in Hand Track

The challenge was held in October 2016 and i was responsible for the mechanical design and development of the Pisa/IIT SoftHand.

CYBATHLON 2016: Championship for Athletes with Disabilities2016, Zurich, Switzerland

5th place, Powered Arm Prosthesis Race

The challenge was held in October 2016 and i was responsible for the mechanical design and development of the SoftHand Pro-H. I was also team member of the Official Team. The SoftHand Pro-H, in the second run of the competition, accomplished all the six tasks of the challenge. Only two team were able to accomplish all the tasks.

DARPA Robotics Challenge 2015 - Finals2015, Pomona, California, USA

17th place

The challenge was held in June 2015 and i was responsible for the mechanical design of the main actuation units, lower body and robotic hands. I was also team member of the Field Team during the official Challenge. The Walk-Man team arrived in 17th position in the challenge and the project received broad media attention.

ESA Lunar Robotics Challenge Competition2008, Tenerife, Spain

2nd place

The challenge was held in October and the student was responsible for coordinating the Mechanical development activities of the team. The Università di Pisa arrived in second position in the challenge and the project received broad media attention.


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Accetta e chiudi

I numeri di IIT

L’Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) è una fondazione di diritto privato - cfr. determinazione Corte dei Conti 23/2015 “IIT è una fondazione da inquadrare fra gli organismi di diritto pubblico con la scelta di un modello di organizzazione di diritto privato per rispondere all’esigenza di assicurare procedure più snelle nella selezione non solo nell’ambito nazionale dei collaboratori, scienziati e ricercatori ”.

IIT è sotto la vigilanza del Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca e del Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze ed è stato istituito con la Legge 326/2003. La Fondazione ha l'obiettivo di promuovere l'eccellenza nella ricerca di base e in quella applicata e di favorire lo sviluppo del sistema economico nazionale. La costruzione dei laboratori iniziata nel 2006 si è conclusa nel 2009.

Lo staff complessivo di IIT conta circa 1440 persone. L’area scientifica è rappresentata da circa l’85% del personale. Il 45% dei ricercatori proviene dall’estero: di questi, il 29% è costituito da stranieri provenienti da oltre 50 Paesi e il 16% da italiani rientrati. Oggi il personale scientifico è composto da circa 60 principal investigators, circa 110 ricercatori e tecnologi di staff, circa 350 post doc, circa 500 studenti di dottorato e borsisti, circa 130 tecnici. Oltre 330 posti su 1400 creati su fondi esterni. Età media 34 anni. 41% donne / 59 % uomini.

Nel 2015 IIT ha ricevuto finanziamenti pubblici per circa 96 milioni di euro (80% del budget), conseguendo fondi esterni per 22 milioni di euro (20% budget) provenienti da 18 progetti europei17 finanziamenti da istituzioni nazionali e internazionali, circa 60 progetti industriali

La produzione di IIT ad oggi vanta circa 6990 pubblicazioni, oltre 130 finanziamenti Europei e 11 ERC, più di 350 domande di brevetto attive, oltre 12 start up costituite e altrettante in fase di lancio. Dal 2009 l’attività scientifica è stata ulteriormente rafforzata con la creazione di dieci centri di ricerca nel territorio nazionale (a Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) e internazionale (MIT ed Harvard negli USA) che, unitamente al Laboratorio Centrale di Genova, sviluppano i programmi di ricerca del piano scientifico 2015-2017.

IIT: the numbers

Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) is a public research institute that adopts the organizational model of a private law foundation. IIT is overseen by Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca and Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze (the Italian Ministries of Education, Economy and Finance).  The Institute was set up according to Italian law 326/2003 with the objective of promoting excellence in basic and applied research andfostering Italy’s economic development. Construction of the Laboratories started in 2006 and finished in 2009.

IIT has an overall staff of about 1,440 people. The scientific staff covers about 85% of the total. Out of 45% of researchers coming from abroad 29% are foreigners coming from more than 50 countries and 16% are returned Italians. The scientific staff currently consists of approximately 60 Principal Investigators110 researchers and technologists350 post-docs and 500 PhD students and grant holders and 130 technicians. External funding has allowed the creation of more than 330 positions . The average age is 34 and the gender balance proportion  is 41% female against 59% male.

In 2015 IIT received 96 million euros in public funding (accounting for 80% of its budget) and obtained 22 million euros in external funding (accounting for 20% of its budget). External funding comes from 18 European Projects, other 17 national and international competitive projects and approximately 60 industrial projects.

So far IIT accounts for: about 6990 publications, more than 130 European grants and 11 ERC grants, more than 350 patents or patent applications12 up start-ups and as many  which are about to be launched. The Institute’s scientific activity has been further strengthened since 2009 with the establishment of 11 research nodes throughout Italy (Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) and abroad (MIT and Harvard University, USA), which, along with the Genoa-based Central Lab, implement the research programs included in the 2015-2017 Strategic Plan.