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School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering SEMINAR SERIES (3-2-2021)

Soft Robots and Soft Structures

Gina Olson

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021 11:00am to Noon via Zoom


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Dr. Gina Olson, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Soft Machines Lab, Carnegie Mellon University


Soft robots use geometric and material deformation to absorb impacts, mimic natural motions, mechanically adapt to motion or unevenness and to store and reuse energy. Soft robots, by virtue of these traits, offer potential for robots that grasp robustly, adapt to unstructured environments and work safely alongside, or are even worn by, humans. However, compliance breaks many of the assumptions underpinning traditional approaches to robot design, dynamics, control, sensing and planning, and new or modified approaches are required.

During this talk, I will introduce the concept of soft robots as soft structures, with capabilities and behaviors derived from the type and organization of their active and passive elements. I will present my current and prior work on the development and analysis of soft robotic structures, with a particular focus on the mechanics of soft arms. I will show how structure and mechanics affect concepts critical to robotics, such as workspace size and planning techniques. Finally, I will conclude the talk with my plans for future research, which focus on critical challenges that must be addressed to realize field‐deployable soft robots.


Dr. Gina Olson is a postdoctoral research scientist working in Prof. Carmel Majidi’s Soft Machines Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. She earned her doctorate in Robotics and Mechanical Engineering at Oregon State University’s Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute, where she was advised by Dr. Yiğit Mengüç and Prof. Julie A. Adams. Her current research interests are the development and study of the soft and compliant structures within soft robots, and her past research interests lie in the area of deployable space structures for small satellites. She previously worked as a Technical Lead Engineer at Meggitt Polymers and Composites, where she led the development and certification of fire seals for aircraft engines and learned the intricacies of manufacturing at a production level. Dr. Olson’s future research directions are guided by the desire to see capable soft robots used in the world.