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School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering SEMINAR SERIES (4-1-2021)

Optoelectronic Sensing of the Deformation of Soft Robots, and their Electrohydraulic Power

Dr. Robert F. Shepherd, Associate Professor, Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering, Cornell University

Dr. Robert F. Shepherd

Thursday, April 1st, 2021 11:00 am to Noon via Zoom

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An engineering contradiction exists between enduring and adaptable robots—we have examples of autonomous cars that can drive for 100’s of miles, or legged ones that can do backflips for a little while, but never the twain shall meet. Pushing this Pareto frontier outwards towards biological capabilities of enduring and adaptive mobility will probably require embracing complexity and multifunctionality. Meaning, hierarchical assembly of several sub‐systems (i.e., organs) and packing energy into every cubic centimeter of volume. Towards this end, I will talk about our work to “innervate” robots for tactile feedback using stretchable sensing “skins” for high density shape sensing measurements to improve control authority in high degree of freedom (passive or active) continuum structures and actuators.

My focus will be on the use of stretchable fiberoptic lightguides as a sensing medium for estimating deformation and temperature in the “meat” of these compliant structures and actuators. After discussing sensing, I will then describe our concept of “Robot Blood” in order to increase the overall energy density of hydraulically powered robots. This Robot Blood is an electrolyte based off of redox flow battery (RFB) chemistry that performs the additional function of force transmission and soft actuator inflation. I will close by demonstrating robots that take advantage of this electrohydraulic power.



Rob Shepherd is an associate professor at Cornell University in the Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. He received his B.S. (Material Science & Engineering), Ph.D. (Material Science & Engineering), and M.B.A. from the University of Illinois in Material Science & Engineering. At Cornell, he runs the Organic Robotics Lab (ORL:, which focuses on using methods of invention, including bioinspired design approaches, in combination with material science to improve machine function and autonomy. We rely on new and old synthetic approaches for soft material composites that create new design opportunities in the field of robotics.

Our research spans three primary areas: bioinspired robotics, advanced manufacturing, and human‐robot interactions. He is the recipient of an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award, an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, and his lab’s work has been featured in popular media outlets such as the BBC, Discovery Channel, and PBS’s NOVA documentary series.