Perhaps nobody knows exactly how robots of the future will look like. However, we are sure that they will not resemble the heavy, bulky, rigid machines dangerously moving around in old-fashioned industrial automation. There is a growing consensus, in the research community as well as in expectations from the public, that robots of the next generation will be physically compliant and adaptable machines, closely interacting with humans and moving safely, naturally and efficiently, and capable to assist weak people with a gentle force – in other terms, future robots will be soft and strong.
Our group, the Soft Robotics for Human Cooperation and Rehabilitation Lab, deals with the design and control of the next generation of robots.
Some of our projects have opened new avenues: PHRIENDS introduced physical human-robot interaction and safety measures in robotics; VIACTORS presented the first Variable Impedance Actuators (VIA) replicating some of the properties of natural muscles in robot actuators; THE Hand Embodied exploited the concept of synergies in human motor control to realize a principled simplification of robot hands, which the ERC SOFTHANDS project is transforming in a viable technology for adaptive grasping with versatile, anthropomorphic, simple and robust robots hands. From these roots, new projects have branched out: WEARHAP explores principled simplification of haptic interfaces; WALKMAN is extending the theory and technology of soft robotic grasping to loco-manipulation of humanoid robots, while SOFTPRO applies our ideas to prosthetics and rehabilitation of the upper limb of amputees and stroke patients.
The SoftRobotics Lab is a dynamic environment where the most advanced understandings of natural motor control and the most innovative technologies of robotics proceed in symbiosis. The lab, in close connection with brother labs in Genoa and Pisa, counts on outstanding equipment and facilities. The lab has a keen interest in technology transfer. We adopt the EU Open Source/Open Data strategy, and share most of our experimental data, code, and design on collaborative research platforms such as the Hand Corpus and the Natural Machine Motion Initiative.
The SoftRobotics Lab is tightly integrated in the ADVanced Robotics Department at IIT-Genova, and works in close connection with groups led by Darwin Caldwell, Nikos Tsagarakis and Arash Ajoudani. Our lab has a strategic collaboration with the Robotics Group at Centro “E. Piaggio”, University of Pisa. Other crucial partners in our work have been the German Aerospace Agency, the Arizona State University, the Universities of Rome and Siena,amongmany others.