Research Projects and Platforms

in the IDEAlab

SCRAM Projects

SCRAM stands for Soft, Curved, Reconfigurable, Anisotropic Mechanisms.

SCRAM Platform 1

Students: Mohammad Sharifzadeh, Yuhao Jiang

coming soon…

This work is supported by NSF Award #1935324

Soft Robotics

We are seeking to develop next-generation soft robots from stimuli-responsive materials like hydrogels.

Octopus-Inspired Soft Hydrogel Robots

Students: Roozbeh Khodambashi

We are working to create a framework for design, rapid prototyping and control of robust, energy-efficient, autonomous soft arms with octopus-inspired distributed neuromuscular sensing and actuation. The arms will be capable of continuous deformation through the use of hydrogel “muscles” and distributed sensing through the use of embedded silver “neuron” interconnections. Such a unique octopus-inspired design forms a built-in local “sensing-actuation” feedback loop to achieve adaptive reconfiguration in response to the local environment. Such local adaptation will enable the robot to perform high-level tasks such as locomotion and reversible adhesion without coordination from a central controller in a highly accurate, rapid, and energy-efficient way. This study will also produce fundamental principles and theory for the modeling and control of soft robots in a way which leverages their unique capabilities and is inspired by how cephalopod appendages interact with their environment.

This work is supported by Office of Naval Research Award N00014-17-1-2117

Swimming Projects

Phase II: Navigation and Control of an Autonomous Fish-Inspired Robot for Canal Cleaning and Maintenance

Students: Mohammad Sharifzadeh, Yuhao Jiang

Funding for this project was provided in part by SRP.

Biped Projects

Bio-inspired bipedal robot design

Students: Sudhanshu Katarey

My research draws inspiration from terrestrial avians in terms of development of an optimized leg design for bipedal walking, running and jumping. I will be applying the skills I have learned during the foldable robotics class in the estimation of kinematics, design and fabrication of the robotic leg using software such as Python and SolidWorks. To gauge the dynamics of the leg for different functions I will be using Unity Simulation Engine and Visual Studio to validate the results of experimental testing and biomechanics research. My team has already created a model for the leg which we will begin to conduct experiments on. I have used Unity to help test motor parameters in order to select a motor with the best combination of gear ratios, masses and torques for our leg design.

This project is part of an ongoing Masters’ project.

Wing Design

Students: Vipul Gadekar

The projects involve design of wings for a laminate biped robot for providing locomotion stabilization. The wings are designed to provide stabilization for different gait such as running, hopping and jumping. The project aims to develop a reliable dynamics model which includes biped dynamics as well as aerodynamics for creating and testing multiple designs optimized for various gaits. The aerodynamic simulations are run on a vortex-lattice code “VORLAX”, which provides numeric simulation of the defined geometric bodies. The simulations are then to be plugged into the robot dynamics model, which is to be utilized for robot design iterations, simulations and design of a controller.

This project is part of an ongoing Masters’ thesis.

Control of a biped laminate robot

Students: Taha Shafa

Currently, a lot of focus previously for laminate robots has been on design, but more complex applications require higher level design. The aim of my project is to demonstrate that laminate robots can be utilized for higher level design by designing a laminate biped with model-based controls that can balance while standing and walking. This project starts from the early prototyping design stage. Designs are created using python and Solidworks; PopupCAD is used to produce the DXF files needed for high speed laminate manufacturing. Through testing various design iterations, a design was reached with the ability to stand. The motors of this design were then modified to meet desired torque parameters. Testing has shown high torque is necessary to utilize robust control techniques, which will be used to balance the biped while it both stands and walks. Through python-based physics simulations utilizing Kane’s method, a model of the bipedal design can be created and linearized for controls applications. Since the system is fully controllable, LQR control techniques will be applied for balancing while standing and walking. Eventually, different control systems can be design and implemented for various system applications.

This project is part of an ongoing Masters’ thesis.

CAREER: Dynamic Modeling and Fabrication of Compliant Material Systems for On-Demand Specialist Robots

Students: TBD

This Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant will make it possible to develop cost-effective, specialist robots that can be prototyped by a non-expert in a matter of hours. The goal of this project is to make robots more ubiquitous, accessible, and tunable for newcomers to robotics and for applications in industry, education, and academic research. Achieving this goal requires a shift towards more affordable materials, accessible fabrication strategies, and assistive design software that considers the particular dynamics of cost-efficient motors and materials, as well as the needs of specific applications. The results of this project will impact fields in which specialization is desirable, such as assistive robotics for the elderly, custom agricultural applications, and trash pickup in smart cities. The robots developed through this project will also serve as an affordable starting point for children to compete in after-school robotics competitions organized by local, youth-focused nonprofits. In addition, the models and templates developed for this project will be integrated into college-level robotics curricula, permitting students to venture deeper into advanced robotics topics earlier in their studies.

The fundamental research contribution of this project lies within the consideration and integration of compliant material systems into a unified design framework that supports the specialization and optimization of dynamical robotic systems. The research plan involves developing reduced models for the nonlinear mechanics of material systems that permit more affordable robot designs, and considering that compliance in simulations to customize, model, and optimize their performance. This approach will investigate machine learning techniques to automatically tune parametric, template-driven designs in a way that balances competing performance trade-offs like speed, payload, and efficiency. The project’s research objectives include the representation of compliance, the utilization and understanding of compliance, the optimization of compliant systems, and validation of the framework through prototyping, experimental validation, and exemplar use-cases. The generality of the approach will be demonstrated by modeling and optimizing several subsystems of a bipedal robot.

This work is supported by NSF Award #1944789

Quadruped Projects

Modular Tail for Stabilizing Robot Platforms

Students: Frank Ononye

Based on the idea that robots can be made to display many features of animals such as locomotion, the goal of this thesis is to recreate a tail based on the mechanics of a cheetah since the use of its tail is the most effective in dynamic stability and test its effectiveness on an inherently unstable object such as an rc car. The question focuses on which tail design is necessary to fix an inherently unstable object. This topic is derived from how a cheetah uses its tail to stabilize itself while catching prey. The question of developing  a design will be answered by creating a unity model inspired by a cheetah’s tail and simulate how it will stabilize an object that lacks balance. The selected platform is an rc car. The model is already developed in unity, but its movement is not unstable. After making the inherently unstable by adjusting the scaling of the object to make it taller, the motor speed, turning angle, mass of the cube, mass of the wheels, and radius of the wheels, a motor and tail will be added for balance. The selected rc car will be adjusted to match the parameters in unity. The expected result of this procedure is to have a display of a real life model matching the simulation. 

This project is part of an ongoing Barrett Honors thesis.

Balancing Quadruped

Students: Dante Roush

I am expanding the work done by previous Master’s Student Ben Shuch in the field of Quadrupedal Robotic Locomotion. I am utilizing force sensing to calculate the center of balance of a quadrupedal laminate robot with the end goal of implementing a controls system capable of adapting in real time to changing ground angles. Each of the robot’s four legs have two degrees of freedom and are controlled by a four-bar system powered by two servo motors. While standing in place, the robot will behave like a parallel manipulator; when standing on an angled table, it will use the difference between the current force distribution and an ideal force distribution for balance to direct a change in leg length to counteract the angled ground. The laminate materials used to construct the robot make it a more cost effective research platform for researching controls problems.

This project is part of an ongoing Barrett Honors thesis.

Foldable Projects

Other Projects

Children’s Engineering Kit

Students: Hebellyn Quezada

The purpose of this project is to create a kit that aims to spark an interest in engineering for preadolescents and investigate what are effective methods of doing so. The highlight of this project is the implementation of Choice Theory, which proposes that student engagement increases when they are presented with a series of options to choose from. The kit will consist of lessons that diverge in different directions on multiple steps to represent the diversity of engineering solutions. In the end, these branched out paths will merge together to a single product to show students the interconnectedness of different engineering disciplines. The students’ interaction and completion of the kit will be analyzed to determine what level of complexity and guidance is best suited for preadolescents.

This project is part of an ongoing Barrett Honors thesis.

Signals in the Soil

Students: Shawn (Dongting) Li

What’s inside the ground leaves us a mystery, and we are trying to use the self-boring robot nodes to collect signals underground. Currently, we are focusing on the soft material-granular media contacting behavior, adding material compliance into granular media RFT model. With a sand-burrowing robot platform built, we are validating the model, adding sensors, and implementing control. As a final goal, a series of self-burrowing digging robots will be created, enabling us to sense underground environments with minimal human intervention.

This work is supported by NSF Award #1841574

Development of an Multi-Process Planning Tool

Students: Cole Brauer

This project seeks to provide methods and set of tools for processing, modifying, and generating 3D models that use multiple materials and fabrication processes. Areas of research include planning of fabrication steps, automatic part modification, optimization of component properties, and generation of the files and fixtures needed to produce multi-material parts. Implementation of these algorithms is done in Python using a voxel-based model representation. This work will make multi-material fabrication more accessible for educational and research robotics. Current work is focused on applications of graded materials in the design of robust material transitions. The results will inform the design of stronger flexible joints for use in low-cost robotics applications. More information is available on the project GitHub repository. (

This project is part of an ongoing Masters’ thesis, and was previously the topic of a FURI project and a Barrett Honors thesis

Wearable Hybrid Robotic Suit for Self-Actualization and Well-Being

Students: TBD

We propose a wearable hybrid robotic system that assists, enhances, and augments a person in their daily activities around the home and in the workplace in order to improve quality of life, increase productivity, and prolong independent living. Our approach focuses on three key research activities in order to achieve a wearable, hybrid system that works with its user to provide (a) alternate load pathways, (b) reconfigure itself for different activities, and (c) learn alongside its wearer to improve usability. First, we propose a biomechanics-based investigation of routine activities often seen in the workplace and in daily living to identify key opportunities for intervention. Second, we propose a low-cost and highly customizable design approach in which arrays of passive devices may be engaged or disengaged to provide dynamic and low-power support to the user as they transition through various activities. Finally, we propose to pair this wearable device with a machine learning approach called “mutual adaptation” in order to learn about – and reciprocally guide and train – the robotic device for more effective use and symbiosis with the wearer.

This work is supported by the Kaiteki Institute

Archived Projects

Buoyancy Control of a Bio-inspired Robotic Fish

Students: Alia Gilbert

This project focuses on controlling the altitude of an underwater robot meant to do environmental cleanup of vegetation in a canal. A bladder modeled off fish anatomy will be designed containing two bulbs, likely of laminate material, with a tube containing a pump. The pump will transfer air between the two bulbs to control the direction of the buoyancy in the robot. The shift in buoyancy will allow the body of the robot to move either up or down. Using this laminate material in prototyping for underwater robotics allows for low cost testing and quick turnaround time for iterations. We will be checking consistency of the level that the robot is driving using an IMU to control the amount of water or air in the bulbs of the systems.

Phase I: Laminate Robot Platform to Facilitate Autonomous Canal Maintenance

Students: Mohammad Sharifzadeh

In this project, the goal is to build an AUV that explores the water canals and performs cleaning of these canals as necessary. We have selected the fin propulsion mechanism as the propulsion system for our AUV. Essentially, we are designing and building an underwater robot that will use a fin to move inside water. Our capability of using a laminated robot, will give us more advantage in easily gain the required stiffness in the tail in order to overcome the water drag.

Funding for this project was provided in part by SRP.

Design of a Hopping Platform using Laminate Construction

Students: Jacob Knaup

Taking advantage of laminate materials’ flexibility, a high-performance jumping platform is developed. A physical prototype and accurate model of the design are sought in tandem with each being used to inform the other. This will result in a leg design to be incorporated into future jumping or hopping robots and a validated simulation that can be used to design future robots using the same methods.

Funding for this project was provided by FURI and KEEN.

Underactuated Laminate gripper with Low-Cost Sensing.

Students: Drew Carlson

This project explores the design and development of a robotic gripper using low cost materials. It uses a four-bar mechanism to grasp objects. The system is back driven until the finger makes contact with an object. The servo continues to drive over coming the force of a spring holding the gripper in a open position providing the method of under-actuation. The laminate design allows for multiple materials to be used. This can be exploited to make the contact points more flexible for the inclusion of flex sensors. By using multiple low cost flex sensors the location, number, and amount of force being applied in the grip can be determined using beam theory as a model.

Funding for this project was provided by FURI.

Low-Cost, Modular Force Control Solution

Students: Jacob Knaup

Force control offers numerous benefits to robots over other control schemes such as more natural movements and increased sensitivity to the surrounding environment, but it is typically only available to high-end robots. This research aims to develop a modular force control solution for low-cost robots. The solution is designed to be easy to incorporate into future laminate robots, allowing the designer to add force control capabilities, while placing minimal constraints on the design.

Funding for this project was provided by FURI.

Design of a Cutting Tool for Clearing Underwater Vegetation

Students: Sheena Benson

The objective of this research is to further the development of the bio-inspired fish being and constructed by Dr. Aukes and his team of student researchers by designing an inexpensive, reliable, and effective cutting tool to be used in conjunction with the robotic fish to cut and reduce the number of underwater vegetation growing in canals and waterways here in Phoenix. Such a device would reduce the cost and manpower currently used to clear those canals. Without clearing aquatic plants from the canals, certain parts of the city would also become vulnerable to increased flooding in the event of a sudden downpour, leading to possible infrastructure damage.

Funding for this project was provided by FURI.

Foldable Robotic Elephant Trunk

Students: Mannat Rana

Standard robotic arms are limited by their cost, size, and lack of flexibility. These factors make standard robotic arms difficult to apply in complex scenarios. While traditional, rigid robotic arms are used in factories and plants, they require meticulous planning, spacious locations, heavy funding, and can only be used for limited purposes, as they are inherently unsafe around humans. Laminate devices, on the other hand, are far more compact, flexible, cheap, and modular, as they use flat, somewhat flexible materials which fold up like a popup-book to create complex nonlinear motion. With these advantages in mind, I propose to research continuum robot arms made using foldable, laminate techniques, using an elephant trunk as a source of inspiration. The elephant trunk has more degrees of freedom than the standard robotic arm, which allows it to perform complex manipulation tasks in unstructured natural environments. This concept, when applied to a robotic arm, would allow it to be used in many more applications, and could be designed to accomplish a variety of tasks ill-suited to typical robot arms. Furthermore, the system could be designed to be collapsible, which would make it modular, portable, and easily deployable, increasing its applications further.

This project was part of a Fall 2019 FURI project

Design, Implementation, and Testing of a Force-Sensing Quadrupedal Laminate Robot

Students: Ben Shuch

In this project we present a low-cost force-sensing quadrupedal laminate robot platform. The robot has two degrees of freedom on each of four independent legs, allowing for a variety of motion trajectories to be created at each leg, thus creating a rich control space to explore on a relatively low-cost robot. This platform will allow a user to research complex motion and gait analysis control questions, and use different concepts in computer science and control theory methods to permit it to walk. The motion trajectory of each leg has been modeled in Python. Critical design considerations are the complexity of the laminate design, the rigidity of the materials of which the laminate is constructed, the accuracy of the transmission to control each leg, and the design of the force sensing legs.

This project was the result of coursework and a Barrett Honors thesis.

Extending the Jumping Range of a Small Robot via Collapsible Gliding Wings

Students: Guston Lighthouse

This project investigates the impact curvature, buckling, and anisotropy play when used passively to enhance jumping capability. In this project we employ a curved structure to allow a rigid link to collapse preferentially in one direction when it encounters aerodynamic drag forces. A model was constructed in Python using the data gathered through the experiments and was tuned so that its outputs were as close as possible to the experimental results. As expected, increasing the wing diameter increased the total fall time, and increasing the payload mass decreased the total fall time. Orientation of the wings around the vertical axis of the glider relative to the direction of horizontal motion was also found to have an effect on the length of time between when the gliding platform was launched and when it made contact with the ground, with a configuration where the axis between the wings was parallel to the direction of motion granting added stability.

This project was the result of a Barrett Honors thesis.