EFRI C3 SoRo: Functional-Domain Soft Robots Precisely Controlled by Quantitative Dynamic Models and Data

  • Zhao, Xuanhe (PI)
  • Roche, Ellen E. (CoPI)
  • Wu, Lingfei L. (CoPI)
  • Yu, Cunjiang (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project will create a new class of submillimeter surgical soft robots, capable of untethered operation in the human body, and enabled by programmable domains of soft functional materials designed to respond in different ways to external magnetic fields. These materials can be used to propel and steer the robot or to trigger permanent shape change, with different functions selected by the frequency of the forcing field. Other material domains are designed to provide distributed sensing through changes in electronic properties. At the system level, both model-based and data-driven methods will be used to modulate the external magnetic field to control the robot in the body, based on real-time fluoroscopy images and information from the robot's sensors. Robot performance will be experimentally validated, including in animal models. The result will be enhanced accuracy, steerability, and navigability over conventional techniques, thus providing access to complex and constrained environments unreachable by existing surgical robots or robotic catheters. These new robots will open new venues for minimally invasive surgery and potentially address longstanding challenges and unmet needs in healthcare. The project will be carried out by a team of researchers with complementary expertise, including soft active materials design and fabrication, constitutive modeling and mechanics, flexible electronics and sensors, machine learning and data processing, medical device design, and translational medicine. The project will provide research and training opportunities to graduate, undergraduate and high school students from underrepresented groups, and will offer workshops and seminars for K-12 students.

Soft robots are currently facing a set of key challenges including untethered actuation, distributed sensing, accurate control, and miniaturization. This project seeks to address the challenges through a paradigm-shifting functional-domain approach for the design, fabrication, and control of a new class of functional-domain soft robots (FunDo SoRo). FunDo SoRo with self-contained multi-functional domains of programmable actuation and distributed sensing and data-driven strategies for accurate dynamics control will represent a new paradigm in the design, manufacture and control of soft robotics. The specific approaches in achieving FunDo SoRo are to 1) develop novel functional materials and multi-material 3D printing techniques to realize field-based remote actuation, shape-reconfiguration, and distributed sensing through a set of integrated actuation domains responsive to static magnetic fields, shape-memory domains reconfigurable under dynamic magnetic fields, and sensing domains capable of measuring strain, contact pressure, and temperature; 2) develop theoretical and computational models to quantitatively predict the dynamic response of FunDo SoRo upon actuation, and data-driven strategies assisted by machine learning to accurately control the dynamics of FunDo SoRo; and 3) experimentally validate submillimeter soft continuum robots for minimally invasive procedures to address unmet needs and challenges in healthcare such as cerebral aneurysms or obstructive pulmonary diseases.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date10/1/199/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $2,000,000.00


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