The research line in Bioinspired Soft Robotics BSR at IIT is lead by Dr Barbara Mazzolai, who is also director of the Center for Micro-BioRobotics in Pontedera.

Barbara Mazzolai

"An important hallmark of my research is the direct deployment of biological experiments in pipelines intended to yield valuable robots: rather than merely taking inspiration from biological principles found in literature, I support an internal, unambiguous validation of the state of the art in biology; when possible, I endorse pushing such knowledge boundaries forward, optimising notions that are crucial for all downstream research and therefore ensuring the good quality of the final work."

Barbara Mazzolai

The BSR research interest is twofold. The first set of goals is to select the biological system(s) responsible for producing desired characteristics relevant in robotics, to identify and extract the key principles underlying these biological functions and to translate them to a technological solution. The second goal is to increase the knowledge of the biological systems that are used as models. Since the design of these robotic solutions is deeply based on a few selected biological features, a new view of robots for biology can be envisaged, with the goal to give insights on the organisms themselves and elucidate the basis of complex biological behaviours. The robot, in fact, offers the advantage of being programmable and reconfigurable to test different hypotheses and, although in many cases the models can be implemented and tested in software simulations, a robot can help explain the behaviour of the biological systems, by evaluating its capabilities in the real world. This robot vs biology drift will contribute to stead the fundamental and emerging role of robotics in the next decades, opening new exciting opportunities both in science and engineering.

The implementation of these concepts requires a truly interdisciplinary research team, including (bio)engineers, plant biologists, computer scientists, material scientists, mathematicians, and roboticists strongly demanded by the complexity of the addressed scientific themes.

Future perspectives: Bioinspiration, as a general concept (using phenomena in biology to make innovation in science and technology) is all but new; yet, its application to robotics is massively innovating the field, re-thinking e.g. patterns of movement, or sensing or actuation abilities. The challenges ahead for bioinspired soft robotics are further developing the abilities for robots to grow, evolve, self-heal, develop, and bio-degrade: the ways robots can adapt their morphology to the environment. 

The research line includes two main topics, namely ‘Next-Generation Self-adaptable and Growing Robots’ and ‘Soft-bodied robots and technologies’.