Research interests and approach:

My research focuses on the design and fabrication of robotic devices. I aim to develop large-scale lifelike robots for industrial applications, medical assistance, human-robot interaction, and human augmentation. My research approach covers a wide range of disciplines, and I always like to investigate new opportunities in robot design and product development by drawing inspiration from cutting-edge discoveries in the fields of biology, materials science, applied physics, computer science, and artificial intelligence. I also have research experiences in smart materials and structures, artificial neural networks, evolutionary computation, databases, and complex networks.

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Here is a brief description of my recent work:

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Particle Robotics: Each particle is permitted to perform only uniform volumetric oscillations that are phase-modulated by a global signal. Despite the stochastic motion of the robot and lack of direct control of its individual components, the physical robots composed of up to two dozen particles and simulated robots with up to 100,000 particles are capable of high-level collective behaviors (e.g., robust locomotion, object transport and phototaxis).  More details.

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Tension pistons: This concept utilizes a combination of flexible membrane materials and compressible rigid structures. The tension piston uses fluid-pressure-induced tension forces in a flexible membrane to drive a compressible rigid skeletal structure for force and motion transmission. It is able to produce substantially greater force (more than three times), higher power, and higher energy efficiency (more than 40% improvement at low pressures) compared to 300-year-old conventional pistons.  More details.

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Vacuum-driven origami "magic-ball" gripper: This simple soft gripper architecture consists of an origami “magic-ball” skeleton and a flexible thin membrane. The gripper is able to grasp a large variety of different objects, and it also has sufficient robustness (allowing up to 40% axial offset in grasping) and a large grasp force (holding loads up to 120 N at -60 kPa – more than 120 times the gripper’s weight).  More details.

Fluid-driven origami-inspired artificial muscles: These artificial muscles require only a compressible skeleton, a flexible skin, and a fluid medium. They can be rapidly fabricated using various materials at multiple scales, and they can also be designed to achieve multi-axial and sequential motions. A simple linear muscle can lift objects 1,000 times its own weight. This muscle can be fabricated in 10 minutes and the materials cost less than a dollar.  More details.

Robotic metamorphosis: This technology extends the capabilities of a robot by enabling metamorphosis using self-folding origami exoskeletons. A modular approach is used to develop the robotic system with multiple interchangeable functional exoskeletons. Activated by heat, each exoskeleton is self-folded from a rectangular sheet, extending the capabilities of the initial robot, such as enabling the manipulation of objects or locomotion on the ground, water, or air.  More details.

Soft jumping cube: This robot can jump over rough terrain, and it is made from a combination of materials with different stiffnesses. Rigid plastic materials are used to build its internal structure for integrating electrical components. I use soft materials as the external skins to protect the structure, and more importantly to leverage its body’s elasticity to achieve a highly dynamic passive bouncing motion after an active jumping motion. In addition, our team also tried to control the bounces using 3D-printed programmable soft materials as the skins. More details.

Structure-reconfiguring robot: This robotic system is capable of autonomously traversing and manipulating a 3D structure assembled from discrete truss elements. It can approach and traverse multiple structural joints using a combination of translational and rotational motions. It can also perform automatic truss assembly and disassembly. This robotic construction system relies on the modular design of structural truss elements. More details.

“Piezo-leaf” generator: This device can convert fluidic mechanical energy into electric energy using fluid-induced structural instabilities (fluttering motions) on a flexible piezoelectric element. I explored a dangling cross-flow stalk arrangement with both flexible and rigid materials. This architecture amplifies the vibration by an order of magnitude; thus, it can produce a significantly higher power density than can other designs.  More details.

© 2017 by Shuguang Li.