The Soft Robotics for Human Cooperation and Rehabilitation research line deals with the design and control of the next generation of robots.
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 has transformed in a viable technology for adaptive grasping with versatile, anthropomorphic, simple and robust robots hands. From these roots, new projects have branched out: WEARHAP explored principled simplification of haptic interfaces; WALKMAN extended the theory and technology of soft robotic grasping to loco-manipulation of humanoid robots, while SOFTPRO is applying our ideas to prosthetics and rehabilitation of the upper limb of amputees and stroke patients.
Most recent activities of our group are focusing on even closer integration of humans and robots into true bionic systems. A very ambitious ERC Synergy grant "Natural Bionics" will see our group cooperating with world-leading reconstructive surgeon Oskar Aszman (University Hospital Vienna) and neurointerface scientist Dario Farina (Imperial College London) to realize the very first prostheses directly interfaced with the central nervous system via neural connections to the spine. Our research in Symbiotic Bionics is developing new seamless interfaces between normal people and robots, making it possible to create a symbiosis of human, artificial intelligence and artificial bodies with more capabilities than the sum of the parts. Our symbionic avatars are used for remotely assisting the elderly and the needy, for relieving operators from dangerous and tiresome tasks, and for search and rescue operations in disaster scenarios (including in the real earthquake of the Amatrice region).
During the global Covid-19 emergency our lab designed and promoted an opensource DIY telepresence robot to let isolated patients communicate via video call with their relatives. LHF Connect was realised in collaboration with the University of Pisa (more information).
The SoftRobotics for Human Cooperation and Rehabilitation research line is a dynamic environment where the most advanced understandings of natural motor control and the most innovative technologies of robotics proceed in parallel. The lab counts on outstanding equipment and facilities, including most modern commercial robotic systems, motion and electromyography capture. We design, develop and fabricate our own experimental apparatuses with state-of-the-art CNC, laser cutting, and 3D printing technologies. The group has a keen interest in technology transfer and transformation of IP into economic value. 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 for Human Cooperation and Rehabilitation is located in Genoa at IIT Central Research Labs, but also has research facilities in Pisa (in collaboration with the Reserarch Center "E. Piaggio" of the University of Pisa), and in KmRosso area in Bergamo (in collaboration with the Intellimech Mechatronic Consortium). We also closely collaborate with researchers in IIT, in Pisa, at the German Aerospace Agency, the Arizona State University, the Universities of Rome and Siena, among many others.