The incredible potential of flexible, soft robots | Giada Gerboni


So, robots. Robots can be programmed to do the same task millions of times
with minimal error, something very difficult for us, right? And it can be very impressive
to watch them at work. Look at them. I could watch them for hours. No? What is less impressive is that if you take these robots
out of the factories, where the environments are not
perfectly known and measured like here, to do even a simple task
which doesn’t require much precision, this is what can happen. I mean, opening a door,
you don’t require much precision. (Laughter) Or a small error in the measurements, he misses the valve, and that’s it — (Laughter) with no way of recovering,
most of the time. So why is that? Well, for many years, robots have been designed
to emphasize speed and precision, and this translates
into a very specific architecture. If you take a robot arm, it’s a very well-defined
set of rigid links and motors, what we call actuators, they move the links about the joints. In this robotic structure, you have to perfectly
measure your environment, so what is around, and you have to perfectly
program every movement of the robot joints, because a small error
can generate a very large fault, so you can damage something
or you can get your robot damaged if something is harder. So let’s talk about them a moment. And don’t think
about the brains of these robots or how carefully we program them, but rather look at their bodies. There is obviously
something wrong with it, because what makes a robot
precise and strong also makes them ridiculously dangerous
and ineffective in the real world, because their body cannot deform or better adjust to the interaction
with the real world. So think about the opposite approach, being softer than
anything else around you. Well, maybe you think that you’re not
really able to do anything if you’re soft, probably. Well, nature teaches us the opposite. For example, at the bottom of the ocean, under thousands of pounds
of hydrostatic pressure, a completely soft animal can move and interact
with a much stiffer object than him. He walks by carrying around
this coconut shell thanks to the flexibility
of his tentacles, which serve as both his feet and hands. And apparently,
an octopus can also open a jar. It’s pretty impressive, right? But clearly, this is not enabled
just by the brain of this animal, but also by his body, and it’s a clear example,
maybe the clearest example, of embodied intelligence, which is a kind of intelligence
that all living organisms have. We all have that. Our body, its shape,
material and structure, plays a fundamental role
during a physical task, because we can conform to our environment so we can succeed in a large
variety of situations without much planning
or calculations ahead. So why don’t we put
some of this embodied intelligence into our robotic machines, to release them from relying
on excessive work on computation and sensing? Well, to do that, we can follow
the strategy of nature, because with evolution,
she’s done a pretty good job in designing machines
for environment interaction. And it’s easy to notice that nature
uses soft material frequently and stiff material sparingly. And this is what is done
in this new field of robotics, which is called “soft robotics,” in which the main objective
is not to make super-precise machines, because we’ve already got them, but to make robots able to face
unexpected situations in the real world, so able to go out there. And what makes a robot soft
is first of all its compliant body, which is made of materials or structures
that can undergo very large deformations, so no more rigid links, and secondly, to move them,
we use what we call distributed actuation, so we have to control continuously
the shape of this very deformable body, which has the effect
of having a lot of links and joints, but we don’t have
any stiff structure at all. So you can imagine that building
a soft robot is a very different process than stiff robotics,
where you have links, gears, screws that you must combine
in a very defined way. In soft robots, you just build
your actuator from scratch most of the time, but you shape your flexible material to the form that responds
to a certain input. For example, here,
you can just deform a structure doing a fairly complex shape if you think about doing the same
with rigid links and joints, and here, what you use is just one input, such as air pressure. OK, but let’s see
some cool examples of soft robots. Here is a little cute guy
developed at Harvard University, and he walks thanks to waves
of pressure applied along its body, and thanks to the flexibility,
he can also sneak under a low bridge, keep walking, and then keep walking
a little bit different afterwards. And it’s a very preliminary prototype, but they also built a more robust version
with power on board that can actually be sent out in the world
and face real-world interactions like a car passing it over it … and keep working. It’s cute. (Laughter) Or a robotic fish, which swims
like a real fish does in water simply because it has a soft tail
with distributed actuation using still air pressure. That was from MIT, and of course, we have a robotic octopus. This was actually one
of the first projects developed in this new field
of soft robots. Here, you see the artificial tentacle, but they actually built an entire machine
with several tentacles they could just throw in the water, and you see that it can kind of go around
and do submarine exploration in a different way
than rigid robots would do. But this is very important for delicate
environments, such as coral reefs. Let’s go back to the ground. Here, you see the view from a growing robot developed
by my colleagues in Stanford. You see the camera fixed on top. And this robot is particular, because using air pressure,
it grows from the tip, while the rest of the body stays
in firm contact with the environment. And this is inspired
by plants, not animals, which grows via the material
in a similar manner so it can face a pretty large
variety of situations. But I’m a biomedical engineer, and perhaps the application
I like the most is in the medical field, and it’s very difficult to imagine
a closer interaction with the human body than actually going inside the body, for example, to perform
a minimally invasive procedure. And here, robots can be
very helpful with the surgeon, because they must enter the body using small holes
and straight instruments, and these instruments must interact
with very delicate structures in a very uncertain environment, and this must be done safely. Also bringing the camera inside the body, so bringing the eyes of the surgeon
inside the surgical field can be very challenging
if you use a rigid stick, like a classic endoscope. With my previous research group in Europe, we developed this
soft camera robot for surgery, which is very different
from a classic endoscope, which can move thanks
to the flexibility of the module that can bend in every direction
and also elongate. And this was actually used by surgeons
to see what they were doing with other instruments
from different points of view, without caring that much
about what was touched around. And here you see the soft robot in action, and it just goes inside. This is a body simulator,
not a real human body. It goes around. You have a light, because usually, you don’t have too many lights
inside your body. We hope. (Laughter) But sometimes, a surgical procedure
can even be done using a single needle, and in Stanford now, we are working
on a very flexible needle, kind of a very tiny soft robot which is mechanically designed
to use the interaction with the tissues and steer around inside a solid organ. This makes it possible to reach
many different targets, such as tumors, deep inside a solid organ by using one single insertion point. And you can even steer around
the structure that you want to avoid on the way to the target. So clearly, this is a pretty
exciting time for robotics. We have robots that have to deal
with soft structures, so this poses new
and very challenging questions for the robotics community, and indeed, we are just starting
to learn how to control, how to put sensors
on these very flexible structures. But of course, we are not even close
to what nature figured out in millions of years of evolution. But one thing I know for sure: robots will be softer and safer, and they will be out there helping people. Thank you. (Applause)

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100 thoughts on “The incredible potential of flexible, soft robots | Giada Gerboni

  1. Um yeah no. That's a poor presentation. Clealy a more qualified white male was denied this position due to this lower intelligence diversity hire female.

  2. I'm having less worry about death by the day. By the time my time is up they're going to be able to fix me.

  3. Super interesting, I never thought about using 'soft' robotics before. I can really see how that would be beneficial to movement and stability. Robots are still poor at sensing environments and identifying objects so it would be better if something soft was trying to handle a task than hard metal or plastic whipping away at at an object. The starfish looking robot was almost creepy to look at, almost as if it was controlling itself! I love when scientists copy the natural world, and it seems so intuitive to do that I'm surprised it is not more common in robotics!

  4. Going up there even with a strong native accent is incredibly admirable and inspiring. Would be a lot cooler if more people could actually complement her in a respectful manner, tho.

  5. I think soft robotics may be the way androids in the future will move and function. That’s how they will get the flexibility we envision future androids to have 👽

  6. softer and extra softer robert like human body.
    so robert can do all the work like a man woman.
    so what about robert population and environment situation ?

  7. Humans are more of hard mechanical bodies, yet we don't tumble around and we can do incredible stuff, so the structure itself is not the problem, but the sensory/programming part. While soft robots have their own (small) set of advantages, I don't see how they wouldn't have the same set of issues that "stiff" robots have.

  8. Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children. (The Noble Qur'an. Surah Hadid. Verse:20)
    And if whatever trees upon the earth were pens and the sea [was ink], replenished thereafter by seven [more] seas, the words of Allah would not be exhausted. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise." (The Noble Quran. Surah Luqman Verse 27)

    And you see the mountains, thinking them rigid, while they will pass as the passing of clouds. [It is] the work of Allah, who perfected all things. (Suran An Naml Verse 88)
    It is Allah who erected the heavens without pillars that you [can] see. (The Noble Quran. Surah Ar Rad. Verse 2)
    And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are [its] expander. (Surah Adh Dhariyat. Verse 47)
    French : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVY8pwx9B74
    French: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVqY9TYEkvk
    English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omh4oG8T_Fw

  9. So cute, she sounds exaclty as an Florentine Italian girl. Aaah, makes me feel nostalgic. I miss my home town..
    But respect to this girl, she's also able to make the audience laugh, intentionally.

  10. Giada Gerboni, PhD
    Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University
    Her intellect and ability to explain complex technology is amazing.

  11. Anybody else here watch this and immediately get scared about what evil things could be done with this technology?

  12. Yeah very good talk, she's smart, cool new robots from Harvard MIt Stanford and that ending, was she embarrassed lol 2 cute

  13. I hope when she saw subtitles being used as she's speaking English to an English speaking audience that….. she needs to talk much slower.

  14. She is cute… and has nice accent.. like to hear her all the time..makes concepts so easy to understand…

  15. As a soft creature myself it certainly makes them a lot better looking and easier to relate to 🙂 I can also see real world parallels like gung ho weight lifters who make themselves stronger but more inflexible and muscle bound or the ridgid tree that doesn't bend to high winds and snaps in two .

  16. We could have used these soft robots in the cave rescue mission in Thailand. Just imagine soft robots very quickly finding the kids, faster than human divers, and then also being able to drag the kids through the bottleneck, because they do not need air like human divers.

  17. Instructor, are ready for using spiritual sight, integrated with EMF body interface with effector driving circuits? Non-body interface?

  18. elastagirl: "And I think you need to be more… [goes through rapid series of stretch-power maneuvers] flexible."

  19. "THERE'S TWO TYPES OF ROBOTS EITHER IN A STRENGTHENED FLEXIBLE, SPEED REACTIVE ROBITIC AGILITY SOFT BODY HUMANOID FORM"!!..or "A ROBOTIC SOFT BODY ALIEN FORM LIKE SAY A MINITURE ROBOTIC FORKLIFT TYPE THINGY DAT CAN CONSTRUCT BUILDING STRUCTURES OR SOMETHING"!!…aarrmm???…"IT BE SO AWESOME MAKING ROBOTS AS A JOB KEEPS DAH HUMAN PRODUCTIVELY STIMULATED AND HAPPY IN WORK"!!..plus "NOT SO STRESSED OUT, ANGRY FOR NOT MAKING AND EARNING AN HONEST PEACEFUL LIVING"!!..aarrmm???…"PLUS AFTER WORK GO TO GYM CLASSES AND TAKING PARKOUR LESSONS FROM MAH PERSONAL SOFT ROBOTIC HUMANOID MARTIAL COMBAT INSTRUCTOR"!!..like "DAT BE SO COOL AND FUN YO"!!…aarrmm???…"JUST CAN NO WAIT FOR MAH BRUCE LEE ROBOT"!!..or "TRAVIS PASTRANA MX ROBOT, KELLY SLATER ROBOT AND TONY HAWK'S ROBOT LIKE BE SO WILD AND FREE G"!!…aarrmm???…"TO LEARN DAH FREEDOM OF EXPRESSIVE MOVEMENT VIA DAH ROBOT IT LOOKS HUMAN BUT MORE, FASTER, STRONGER"!!..and "INTELLIGENT BUT MAH ROBOT HOMIE I'VE GOT VIRTUAL REAL WORLD HIGH AUDIO/VISUAL DEFINITION"!!…aarrmm???…"ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE EDUCATION GUIDANCE SYSTEM"!!..plus "MAH INTERGRATED SOFT ROBOTIC ELITE AMOURED PROTECTIVE EXOSKELETON IN LIGHT AGILE OR HEAVY DUTY UPGRADE PACKAGE"!!..and "A ADVANCED INTERGRATED PROTECTIVE SHIELD DAT CAN BE ATTACH TO YOUR BATTERY PACK AND MEDI KIT"!!…aarrmm???…"DAH SHIELD CAN PROTECT CHEW FROM FLYING, FALLING HARMFUL OBJECTS OR A FLAME BLAST, SUM DINK LIKE DAT"!!…aarrmm???…"WELL A CREATIVE ROBOTIC IMAGINATION CREATES NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND DESIGNS NO DOUBT"!!…aarrmm???…"PEACE, HOPE AND A HOME PARADISE TO DAH WORLD HOMIE YEP"!!..

  20. Amazing presentation! I want to learn more about this field of robotics now. This is a refinement of traditional robotics that was invented thanks to creative scientists and engineers, such as Giada, who have a set of skills at the crossroads between science, technology, engineering, art, math, observation, and appreciation of nature. This a great example of the brilliant inventions and designs that can arise from the minds and hard work of people provided with a broad education that emphasizes science, art, and nature equally! 🙂

  21. Based on the soft valves created by Harvard, why can't they be adjusted and evolved into synthetic lungs for people who either develop lung cancer or lose their natural lungs in accidents or shootings, etc? I see a lot of applications that are not surgery on humans or replacing them like in the movie terminator or something. Which seems less expensive and less likely to be rejected by the body, silicone or say genetically grown organs from genetics not sources from the person being implanted? To me, the former seems more economically and outcome-driven than the later.

  22. That was a good presentation. You have to look at us. All we are is natures robots with a super computer inside of us. Hopefully it geta more aubscribers to my channel lol. The best robots will be flexible and soft just like us. They will be able to take the shape of a dog, cat, a human or any animal because we are designed for this enviroment on earth so just copy what we are to build the ultimate robot ya know. Im a strong believer that all the answers we ever need is already inside of us. We are the answers. Everything you ever need to know you already know because your a super computer capable of wireless connections. No matter how superior AI gets we will always be better. Another thing I believe is that we actually think with all of our body rather than just our brain. Our hands, and feet think and the brain just recieves the messages. Embodied intelligence as she was saying.

  23. She's a researcher at Stanford University. I am very happy for her, but not for Italy which is experiencing a severe drain brain (I am part of the long list of researchers living abroad).

  24. Most of her videos are from Harvard and in Singapore we are already commercialising our own soft robots from National University of Singapore.

  25. Che brava Giada!! Complimenti davvero!! Da San Pierino alla California, mantenendo sempre l'accento fucecchiese!! 😁😉 Tante buone cose per il futuro!

  26. #SemiAutonomousHangGliding

    I imagine a hang glider with an electric motor propeller for use when needed that has a small weight shifting motor set at the pilot's hang-point to help pull a pilot into the appropriate body shift position while flying in semi-autonomous mode for training for example, or in semi-autonomous mode when safe during otherwise fully autonomous hang gliding flights for brand new pilots.

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