Soft robotics technologies are becoming a major focus of robotics and hold great promise to become a cutting-edge for the development of systems for a wide range of new applications especially in those areas previously forbidden to rigid robots. RoboSoft is a FET Open Coordination Action that aims to bring together and consolidate the soft robotics community to enable the accumulation and sharing of crucial knowledge needed for scientific and technological progress in this field.

The ability to make structures and devices that are compliant, active and adaptable requires a rethinking of conventional robotics theories and techniques and an interdisciplinary effort as well as know-how from material science, mechanical/electrical engineering, control engineering, chemistry, physics, computer science, biology and medicine.

Started in October 2013 as an EU-funded 3-year Coordination Action under the FET Open Scheme, RoboSoft is coordinated by Prof. Cecilia Laschi (The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy) in partnership with the ETH Zurich (Switzerland) and the University of Bristol (UK).

Soft Robotics Lab - The BioRobotics Institute, SSSA (Photo credits: Massimo Brega).

RoboSoft is bringing together roboticists, industry stakeholders, and scientists from research communities related to soft robotics, embracing all technologies and scientific background needed to deliver soft robots including biology, smart materials design, mathematical modelling, actuation, sensing, embedded intelligence and control, compliant electronics, fabrication technologies, energy harvesting and industrial and consumer applications.

RoboSoft members are currently 22 institutions and research laboratories whose researchers participate in all the RoboSoft events and activities (plenary meetings, workshops, summer schools, events for cross-fertilization with other scientific communities, joint publications, etc.) and can benefit of the use of the RoboSoft resources, channels and initiatives to promote their research and technological results.

As part of coordination action activities, RoboSoft has already organized a series of events and talks at major international conferences in the field of robotics and in those communities related to it and where “fertilization” of soft robotics can take place. These events aimed at maintaing the community active and providing opportunities for gathering and exchanging of ideas and experiences, promoting discussions on open issues, tracking technical developments and encouraging innovation, as well as fostering collaboration activities.

Most importantly, the RoboSoft community members are involved in consultations to discuss the challenges and the expected milestones, to redefine theories and techniques, and to provide research roadmaps within a single coherent vision for soft robotics. The participation and the contribution of the members to the consultations is reported through the RoboSoft working papers, joint publications, and through the book series on soft robotics that will be released at the end of the coordination action.

The first RoboSoft working paper has just been released in September 2014, as result of the consultation of the RoboSoft community members held during the First RoboSoft Plenary Meeting and during the months after the event. Major challenges for research and technologies in soft robotics have been identified, such as the definition of new manufacturing processes for soft robotics (e.g. 3D printing of functional/soft materials), novel paradigms and principles for robots design (including basic research challenges for actuators, sensors, smart materials, control and their integration in full systems), and of unified modelling and control frameworks. To tackle these challenges in the next work-programme, a good mixture of both small and large projects is necessary, involving industries, creating infrastructures for testing soft robots, promoting competitions and supporting specific actions for training and coordination.

The RoboSoft Summer (Spring) School is planned for March 2015.

Project Acronym