Workshop RoboSoft 2021


 RoboSoft 2021  IEEE  IEEE RAS

Half-Day Workshop

Venue: Online Event

12th April 2021

Plant-hybrid machines, sensors, energy systems – an interface for soft robotics?


Fabian Meder

Fabian Meder & Barbara Mazzolai

Center of Micro-BioRobotics (CMBR)
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT)
Viale Rinaldo Piaggio 34
56025 Pontedera (Pisa), Italy
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Barbara Mazzolai


Free registration!

Register now:

Call for short talks open now:

Submit your abstract now to the organizers
(This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 200 words, 1 Figure)



In the last years, a new generation of biohybrid devices have begun to develop that interact with living plants and uses plants as part of integrated devices. The often soft devices employ living plants to derive new strategies for sensing, energy conversion, biodegradation, and environmental monitoring. The prototypes range from integrated sensors to energy harvesting systems in which plants are key components. Soft materials or intrinsically adapt gently to the plant tissue, leaves, and other organs without significantly influencing the physiology. Combining plants with artificial components to achieve efficient and useful biohybrid devices, however, is truly still in an early developmental stage. In this workshop, we would like to bring pioneers of the field together and open up a discussion on how soft machines can contribute to plant-hybrid devices and create promising technologies spanning from agricultural and ecosystem monitoring to energy harvesting.


The field of soft technologies and soft robotics has created the potential to provide systems that adapt to living organisms in a way that it does not harm the living being and allowing its full physiological function. Fascinating interfaces for soft robotics are living plants.

Plants are essential for sustaining life on earth, as food source, for air purification, as energy supply, and as source of multifunctional material systems and many more. Living plants can precisely sense, interact, and adapt to their environments and plants mastered their responses by specifically engineering materials of their organs during their lifetime. Such functionality remains often unachieved in artificial systems in particular when based on similar organic materials. Indeed, it could be possible bypass this bottleneck by integrating plants as essential components to access these functionalities of plants in biohybrid devices. On the other hand, it is necessary to monitor plant growth, interrelate environmental effects on flora, and sustainably adapt nutrients and watering to save resources and enable desired crop production in nature reserves, agriculture, and green cities and for nourishing a sustainable ecosystem. Plants are used for soil remediation and detection of contaminants, to sense environmental pollution and to create electrical energy.

Many other applications can be envisioned if we learn how to interface the fascinating properties of plants with new robotic systems that adapt better to plants, that integrate with the organism, and ideally sustain themselves by harvesting energy from their surroundings and the plants. Soft robotics provides a great potential due to the growing expertise of using adaptive materials capable of adapting to the structure of plants. The soft elastomers can be tailored to let light pass for permitting photosynthesis or enable transpiration that reduce physiological impact of systems.

There are fascinating examples in literature from the recent years that pioneer such a development. Nanomaterial-modified plants as novel sensors can for example detect toxic substances, integrating electronic circuits in the plant tissue has been shown based on the vascular system and plants could be used as energy converters to translate wind energy into electricity by an interaction with soft artificial leaves. On the other hand, thin, soft sensors that perfectly adapt to leaves were used to monitor plant behavior and have been developed to measure local parameters that influence plant growth and could communicate with systems that supply nutrients have been shown.

This workshop aims to give an overview on such technologies and research areas and spotlight the interaction points for soft robotics. The audience can expect to get an overview of the perspectives and we will answer questions like, which are the potentials and benefits of plant-hybrid systems, which are the difficulties, which materials are necessary? We invite experts in the field of soft robotics, bioinspired technologies, plant science and, in particular, plant-hybrid devices to achieve a diverse discussion fully dedicated to an interdisciplinary field that is at its beginning but bearing the great opportunity to spot new research topics in which soft robotics can take the lead.


Plan to encourage interaction among participants

The organizers highlight that the workshop is a unique opportunity to interact with expert scientists from different disciplines approaching the new field of plant-hybrid systems. Each presentation is followed by a question & answer session in which participants can address questions to the speakers. Moreover, the workshop closes with an open discussion on how soft robotics can contribute to integrate plants and soft devices and which perspectives are offered. The organizers will particularly motivate undergraduate and PhD students to contribute to the discussion.


List of invited speakers

Fabian Meder/Barbara Mazzolai, IIT, Italy

Thomas Speck, Biological Garden University of Freiburg, Germany

Muhammad M. Hussain, KAUST, Saudi Arabia

Juan Pablo Giraldo, University of California, USA

Eleni Stavrinidou, Linköping University, Sweden

Zhigang Wu, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China

Trisha L. Andrew, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA


Tentative schedule (TBC) (NY timezone):

9:00-9:30 Fabian Meder/Barbara Mazzolai

9:30-10:00 Thomas Speck:

10:00-10:30 Muhammad M. Hussain

10:30-11:00 Coffee break

11:00-11:30 Zhigang Wu

11:30-12:00 Juan Pablo Giraldo

12:00-12:30 Short talks

12:30-13:30 Lunch break

13:30-14:00 Eleni Stavrinidou

14:00-14:30 Trisha L. Andrew 

14:30-15:00 Open discussion, workshop conclusions