IROS 2019 Workshop : Marine Bio-inspired Soft Robotics


Full day workshop (November 4, 2019)


Marine Bio-inspired Soft Robotics


Prof. Li Wen , Beihang University , Tel : 86-188-1064-4650 , Email :

Prof. Marcello Calisti , Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna , Tel : 3492913013 , Email :

Prof. Hannah Stuart, UC Berkeley, Email:

Dr. Yufeng Chen, Harvard University, Email:


The ocean covers more than seventy percent of our planet; however, more than eighty percent of our ocean is unobserved and unexplored. This uncharted part of our planet offers huge potential for the industrial sectors, as well as for disruptive, exploration-driven scientific discoveries. Soft robots are compliant, light-weight, and multifunctional, and these properties offer many advantages over existing rigid robots for a diverse range of underwater applications, such as swimming among delicate coral reefs, cleaning near-shore pollutants, collecting marine biological samples, and monitoring underwater structures, etc. However, developing agile, dexterous, and reliable underwater soft robots faces substantial challenges in structural design, material choice, sensing, actuation, modeling, and control. Although we have seen progress in areas such as underwater soft robotic grasping, bio-inspired locomotion, and adhesion, the functionalities of current underwater soft robots are still limited compared to existing rigid robots.

We envision future underwater soft robots will be multi-functional and multi-modal. Similar to its biological counterpart, a single soft robot will need to navigate in unstructured environments, manipulate delicate objects, and interact with neighboring robots to collectively accomplish complex tasks. Consequently, developing such soft robots requires expertise from many areas relating to robotics. This workshop will bring together experts from multi-disciplinary backgrounds to discuss topics involving soft robotic design, fabrication, sensing, actuation, locomotion, and control for aquatic applications. In areas such as bio-inspired and bio-mimetic design, invited speakers with biology or design backgrounds will discuss their recent studies on aquatic animal locomotion (swimming, terrestrial locomotion on the seabed) and manipulation (prey, adhesion, and grasping). In areas such as actuation and sensing, invited speakers with material science backgrounds will introduce their recent work on novel actuator design (such as the electroactive polymer, ionic polymer metallic alloy) and concomitant actuation and sensing. In areas such as motion planning and control, invited speakers with backgrounds in dynamics will discuss models for accounting the nonlinear behaviors of soft actuators. Furthermore, invited field roboticists will present recent experimental results on underwater soft robot sampling and manipulation. We hope this workshop will cover all major topics in underwater soft robotics to facilitate communication and encourage collaboration.

In addition to discussing existing areas related to soft robotics, our workshop aims to inspire new ideas in emerging areas such as multiphase locomotion and hybrid soft-rigid robots. Many animal species demonstrate the remarkable capability of hybrid aerial-aquatic or terrestrial-aquatic locomotion to search for food, chase after prey, and evade predators. Developing soft robots capable of multiphase locomotion will expand their applications in tasks such as environmental exploration and search and rescue missions. We will invite seminar speakers who discuss robot locomotion in multiple environments by leveraging flow similarity and surface effects. We expect the discussion will further extend the locomotive capability of underwater soft robots.

Most aquatic species are hybrid soft-rigid systems, and their rigid skeletons play important roles in structural support, protection, and feeding. This workshop will discuss the functions and benefits of various rigid structures in underwater soft robots. While flexible fins or soft manipulators allow biomimetic movement and adaptive manipulation, rigid components such as the spinules in the suction disk of a remora fish can enhance underwater adhesion by engaging on its host skin. We envision the future generation of underwater soft robots will leverage both soft and rigid end effectors to effectively interact with its surrounding environments for locomotion and manipulation.

In summary, this workshop aims to foster a synergetic discussion for developing next-generation underwater soft robots by inviting speakers from diverse backgrounds related to robotics. The workshop will not only cover major topics such as design, fabrication, sensing, actuation, and control but also discuss emerging areas such as multiphase locomotion and hybrid soft-rigid systems. The panel discussion at the end will brainstorm critical future research directions in marine bio-inspired soft robotics.

Topics of interest

List of topics:

Underwater soft sensors and actuators

Modeling, control, and learning for underwater soft robots

Underwater adhesion and grasping in soft robotics

Swimming in soft robotics

Soft robots for underwater terrestrial locomotion

Soft robot marine applications

Milliscale soft actuators and low Reynolds number locomotion

Multiphase locomotion: hybrid aerial-aquatic and hybrid terrestrial-aquatic locomotion

Interfacial effects and drag reduction for soft robot underwater locomotion

Aquatic swarm/schooling and distributed control

Invited Speakers

Prof. Cecilia Laschi, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Confirmed)

Prof. Marcello Calisti, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Confirmed)

Prof. Hannah Stuart, UC Berkeley (Confirmed)

Dr. Yufeng Chen, Harvard University (Confirmed)

Prof. Francesco Giorgio-Serchi, University of Southampton (Confirmed)

Prof. John Costello, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Confirmed)

Prof. Li Tiefeng, Zhejiang University (Confirmed)

Prof. Li Wen, Beihang University (Confirmed)

Prof. Wang Hesheng, Shanghai Jiaotong University (Confirmed)

Prof. George Lauder, Harvard University (TBD)

Prof. Mirko Kovac, Imperial College London (TBD)

Dr. Gabriele Ferri, Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (TBD)

Prof. Mike Tolley, UCSD (TBD)

Prof. Kevin Galloway, Vanderbilt University (TBD)