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Robotic matter

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Jun 30

Speaker: Wouter van der Wijngaart
Date and time: Tuesday 30 June 2020, 3pm – 4pm

Abstract: Humans are the most complex structures known. We are the living proof that robotic structures with cellular architecture have fantastic capabilities. We consist of ~40 trillion cells, but only some 200 different cell types. The mechanic properties of our body parts follow from their cellular structure and the inter-cellular attachment; the different functions of our body parts follow from the interaction of different tissues. It is therefore natural to investigate materials and robots with a synthetic cellular architecture.

Within the DF Robotic Matter project we aim to realise Robotic Matter: a bulk substance that consists of identical microscale synthetic cells, and that can be programmed to in-situ transform its shape and its material properties freely with sub-mm resolution.

Robotic matter entails the promise to bring major societal benefits. When objects can be transformed into other objects – in situ – a range of goods becomes ubiquitously available. Economic and environmental sustainability follow if traditional product life cycle phases (raw material extraction, centralised production, transportation) are significantly reduced. Making a range of complex objects out of a few types of mass-produced cells allows for optimising cell manufacturing towards lower costs (economy of scales) and environmentally friendly production. Programmable matter has the potential to speed up the “Industry 4.0” (r)evolution. Functional advantages and increased versatility result from the added degrees of freedom inherent to modular objects and robots. The reconfiguration ability allows disassembling and reassembling objects and machines to form new morphologies that are better suitable for new tasks. Since the constituting modules are interchangeable, the objects also have an inherent capability for self-repair. Biocompatible miniaturised digits could revolutionise function restoring medical technology, or enable function enhancing cybernetic technologies.

Within the DF Robotic Matter project we investigate basic architectures that could enable such technology, specifically material recycling, material property changing, object shape changing and the automatic control of such materials. During the talk we will explain in more detail the needs in material recycling and how we plan addressing those, we will show preliminary progress in the post-synthesis programming of material properties and object shapes, and explain how we plan to develop automated control of such material systems.

Bios: Wouter van der Wijngaart is Prof. in micro and nanosystems at KTH EECS with specialisation in micro/nanofluidics and micro/nanoscale soft matter, actuators, and systems engineering. Ulrica Edlund is Prof. in polymer technology at KTH CBH with specialisation in polymer and gel technology. Danica Kragic-Jensfelt is Prof. in robotics at KTH EECS with specialisation in reinforcement learning and robotic gripping.