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 2019 Robotics Science and Systems Conference Workshop 


Generation GrowBots:

materials, mechanisms and systems design for adaptable and growing robots inspired by plants


June 22, 2019

Faculty of Engineering, University of Freiburg - Freiburg, Germany 



“Generation GrowBots” will take attendees across the science and technologies of the new field of plant-inspired robotics, and explore the new paradigm for robot mobility inspired by the moving-by-growing ability of plants.

Biology vs Technology

Plants show unique capabilities of endurance and movement by growth.

Across sea and land, through air and underground, some species of plants are the oldest and largest organisms that have ever existed. They can resist unpredictable external forces – such as wind, waves, or falling debris - and can adapt and move their structure by growing across a variety of unstructured environments.

Together with plant biologists and materials scientists, engineers are deeply investigating the biomechanics, materials, energy efficiency mechanisms, and behavior of a variety of plant species, to take inspiration from them for the design of multi-functional and adaptable technologies, and for the development of a new class of low-mass, low-volume robots unique in their movement and growth abilities.

The workshop will bring together a cross-disciplinary panel of scientists and engineers, including experts in material science, soft robotics, plant biology, and architecture to present new scientific discoveries on plants relevant to continuum, soft, adaptable, and growing robots.

Trends, frontiers and potential applications for a variety of high-tech sectors will be also discussed, including future urban and architectural innovation, clean-energy forms and sustainable robotics ecosystems.

Sessions of “plants and artificial relatives showcase” will be included during the program, with an exhibition of latest technologies on the topic.



Barbara Mazzolai (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)*


Director, Center for Micro-BioRobotics (CMBR) Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT)


Ian D. Walker (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Clemson University

*contact person


Barbara Mazzolai is the Director of the Center for Micro-BioRobotics, Senior Researcher Tenured and Principal Investigator of the Bioinspired Soft Robotics research line at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology).

Her research interest represents a merger between biology and engineering, with the design of robotics technologies and systems taking inspiration from Nature - specifically from plants and soft animals - and the advancement of scientific knowledge of biological models.

She is pioneer in the fields of plant-inspired robotics and growing robots. She has been coordinator of the “Plantoid” project (2012-2015) and she is now coordinating the “GrowBot” project, both funded by the European Commission under the Future and Emerging Technologies scheme, and involving multi-disciplinary and international consortia of plant biologists, material scientists, computer scientists and robotic engineers. She is member of the Editorial Board of Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, Soft Robotics, IEEE Transactions on Medical Robotics and Bionics, Biomimetics, Robotics & Automation Letters, and Associated Editor for Frontiers in Bionics and Biomimetics

Ian Walker is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Clemson University. His research centers on robotics, particularly on novel, biologically-inspired “tongue, trunk, and tendril” manipulators. He has been a pioneer in the area of continuous backbone “continuum” robots over the past 20 years. In particular, his group has made contributions to the design, modeling, and operation of continuum robots inspired by octopus arms, elephant trunks, and plant vines. This work has been funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and NASA. Research activities are also related to innovative ways of teaching robotics and on the societal impact of robots and technology. He is a member of the Editorial Board of Soft Robotics.

List of speakers

(in alphabetic order)

Fundamentals of plant biology for new technologies and robotics

Petra Gruber (University of Akrion)

Yasmine Meroz (Meroz Lab, Tel Aviv University)

Nicholas Rowe (Botany and Modelling of Plant Architecture and Vegetation, CNRS)

Thomas Speck (Plant Biomechanics Group, University of Freiburg)

Plant-inspired technologies and robotic systems

Yasmin Ansari (The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna)

Marwa ElDiwiny (Robotics and Mechatronics, University of Twente)

Mirko Kovac (Aerial Robotics Lab, Imperial College London)

Virgilio Mattoli (Center for Micro-BioRobotics, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia)

Barbara Mazzolai (Center for Micro-BioRobotics, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia)

Thrishanta Nanayakkara (Morph Lab, Imperial College London)

Robert Shepherd (Dept. Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University)

Ian D. Walker (Dep. of Electrical and Computer Eng., Clemson University)

The event is intended for robotics researchers and scientists who share the vision of bioinspired and soft robotics, particularly young students and researchers who are encouraged to enter this emerging and challenging field of robotics science.

The novelty of the area and the multidisciplinary approach will stimulate creativity and interactions among participants, with the potential of a strong impact on different topics in engineering, ICT solutions, as well as basic science.


Download the agenda in pdf

9:00 – 9:15

Welcome and overview of the event: Barbara Mazzolai and Ian Walker

9:15 – 9:45

Robert Shepherd, Dept. Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University

“Soft robotics: an emerging field”


Fundamentals of plant biology for new technologies and robotics

9:45 – 10:15

Thomas Speck, Plant Biomechanics Group, University of Freiburg

“Plants as role models for (inter-)active mobile technical systems: inspiration for soft-robotics and architecture”

10:15 – 10:45

Nicholas Rowe, Botany and Modelling of Plant Architecture and Vegetation, CNRS

“Diversity, performance and developmental strategies of climbing plants in tropical forests”

10:45 – 11:00

Coffee Break

11:00 – 11:30

Yasmine Meroz, Meroz Lab, Tel Aviv University

What plant behavioral processes teach us about control strategies for growing robots


Plant-inspired technologies, growing robots and bioinspired robotic construction

11:30 – 12:00

Petra Gruber, Biomimicry Research and Innovation Center, University of Akron

“A living architecture - how growth in biology informs building design”

12:00 – 12:30

Virgilio Mattoli, Center for Micro-BioRobotics, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

“Conducting polymers for soft robotics and electronics”

12:30 – 13:00

Q&A and discussion

13:00 – 13:45

Lunch break


Plant-inspired technologies, growing robots and bioinspired robotic construction

13:45 – 14:45

Barbara Mazzolai, Center for Micro-BioRobotics, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

“GrowBots: a new generation of plant-inspired growing robots”

14:15 – 14:45

Ian Walker, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Eng., Clemson University

“Plant-inspired continuum robots”

14:45 – 15:15

Marwa ElDiwiny, Robotics and Mechatronics, University of Twente

“Modeling, design, and simulation of Knitted and Weaved Ionic Electroactive Polymer for the smart garment”

15:15 – 15:30

Coffee Break

15:30 – 16:00

Thrishantha Nanayakkara, Morph Lab, Imperial College London

“Conditioning the body to reduce entropy of perception”

16:00 – 16:30

Yasmin Ansari, The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna

“Control strategies for robots based on soft materials”

16:30 – 17:00

Mirko Kovac, Aerial Robotics Lab, Imperial College London

“Construction with robots and what we can learn from biology”

17:00 – 17:30

Closing discussion: perspectives for growing robots and sustainable architecture