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From Plants and Animals to Robots: Movements, Sensing, and Control

Two worlds in comparison

September 28, 2015

Congress Center Hamburg, Germany
Saal B1



iitsssa Barbara Mazzolai, PhD
Coordinator, Center for Micro-BioRobotics
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT)
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Lucia Beccai, PhD
Researcher, Center of Micro-BioRobotics
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT)
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Robots today are expected to operate in a variety of scenarios, being able to cope with uncertain situations and to react quickly to changes in the environment. In this scenario a strong relationship between nature and technology plays a major role, with the winning approach of evaluating natural systems to abstract principles for new designs. Such biological principles traditionally originate from animal models for robots that can walk, swim, crawl, or fly. In this workshop we aim at discussing and constructively comparing some technological solutions and their biological models coming from both animals and plants. In the animal paradigm a function is often related to an organ or compartment. Instead plants are networked, decentralized, modular, redundant, and resilient. Plants are able to move, control, sense, but they do in a different way with respect animals or other living beings.

PLANTOIDS, ANIMALOIDS and HUMANOIDS represent the starting point of the event, in which features and capabilities of these robotic platforms are analyzed and applicative scenarios proposed. Under this scientific and technological umbrella, we will compare ideas, biological features, and technological translations coming from the two Kingdoms and related to areas of interest in robotics: movement, sensing and control. Movement, usually ascribed to animals, is also pertinent to plants that move in a very efficient way. New actuators and materials, muscle- or not muscle-like, will be discussed, together with bioinspired sensing systems, these including: the stick insect sensory system focusing on active touch; flow sensing in fish lateral line systems, and plant inspired tactile sensing. Control “with and without brain” is the concluding part, involving: plants, as information-processing organisms with complex communication, where the “command centre” is mainly at root apex, for new signalling modelling and distributed networks; octopus, with distributed control in its peripheral nervous system, for new distributed embodied control models; and, computational models of Central Pattern Generators, will be presented for locomotion control in quadruped robots. The discussion sessions during the whole workshop will be chaired and guided by a professional science communicator, who will give a view “out of the box” of biorobotics and its future impacts on the society.

Topics of interest

The workshop will bring together experts in biology, robotics, physics, material science, in order to share new approaches, visions, and strategic priorities, relevant for the design of the next generations of robots immersed in everyday life.
Main topics of interest are:

  • Plant-inspired robotics
  • Animal-inspired robotics
  • Muscle-like actuation
  • Soft actuation
  • Hierarchical soft materials
  • Sensing abilities in animals and plants
  • Artificial touch
  • Distributed control models and algorithms
  • Central Pattern Generators

Invited Speakers

(In alphabetic order)

Lucia Beccai
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Center for Micro-BioRobotics - Italy

Federico Carpi
Queen Mary University of London - UK

Massimo De Vittorio
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Center for Biomolecular Nanotechnologies - Italy

Volker Dürr
Dept. Biological Cybernetics, University of Bielefeld - Germany

Dario Floreano
Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne - Switzerland

Cecilia Laschi
Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, The BioRobotics Institute - Italy

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

Kamilo Melo
Biorobotics Laboratory, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne - Switzerland

Giorgio Metta
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, iCub Facility department - Italy

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

Roger Quinn
Case Western Reserve University, Biologically Inspired Robotics Laboratory - USA

Leonardo Ricotti
Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, The BioRobotics Institute - Italy

Claudio Semini
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Advanced Robotics Department - Italy

Sabine Hauert, expert in science communication and lecturer in robotics at Bristol Robotics Laboratory (UK), will chair the discussion sessions.

This workshop is supported by IEEE RAS Technical Committee on Soft Robotics and by the FET OPEN RoboSoft Coordination Action (

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