Programmable Fabrication of Smart Robots
Harvard University
May 3, 2012 (Thu)
Science & Engineering N 102
Lunch will be served at noon.


Engineered systems traditionally require highly specialized fabrication and assembly processes that are expensive and not easily adaptable. This places a large overhead burden on the development of new systems or the adaptation of existing systems to new conditions. My work addresses this challenge through the development of programmable fabrication approaches for mesoscale robotic systems. In this talk, I will describe three related research thrusts: The first is an approach to achieving programmable matter (i.e. a substance the shape and properties of which can be tuned to achieve a variety of tasks) through the stochastic fluidic assembly of mesoscale and microscale components. The second thrust, Printable Programmable Machines, is a means to achieving the rapid development and fabrication of low-cost printable robots using origami-inspired folding techniques. Finally, I will discuss recent work in the design and fabrication of soft robots which employ embodied AI to achieve complex locomotion gaits. These three examples represent a paradigm shift in robotics manufacturing towards the programmable fabrication of smart robots.

Bio: Michael T. Tolley is a Postdoctoral Associate in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research topics with Professor Robert J. Wood (Harvard Microrobotics Lab) and Professor Daniela Rus (Distributed Robotics Lab) include printable programmable machines, soft robotics, and mesoscale actuation. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University where he worked on stochastic fluidic assembly for programmable matter. Dr. Tolley was awarded a Doctoral Postgraduate Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). For more information on his research, please visit

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