Robots today rely on rigid components and electric motors based on metal and magnets, making them heavy, unsafe near humans, expensive and ill-suited for unpredictable environments. Nature, in contrast, makes extensive use of soft materials and has produced organisms that drastically outperform robots in terms of agility, dexterity, and adaptability. The Keplinger Lab aims to fundamentally challenge current limitations of robotic hardware, using an interdisciplinary approach that synergizes concepts from soft matter physics and chemistry with advanced engineering technologies to introduce robotic materials – material systems that integrate actuation, sensing and even computation – for a new generation of intelligent systems.
This talk gives an overview of fundamental research questions that inspire current and future research directions. One major theme of research is the development of new classes of actuators – a key component of all robotic systems – that replicate the sweeping success of biological muscle, a masterpiece of evolution featuring astonishing all-around actuation performance, the ability to self-heal after damage, and seamless integration with sensing. A second theme of research are functional polymers with unusual combinations of properties, such as electrical conductivity paired with stretchability, transparency, biocompatibility and the ability to self-healing from mechanical and electrical damage. A third theme of research is the discovery of new energy capture principles that can provide power to intelligent autonomous systems, as well as – on larger scales – enable sustainable solutions for the use of waste heat from industrial processes or the use of untapped sources of renewable energy, such as ocean waves.
Biography: Christoph Keplinger is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and a Fellow of the Materials Science and Engineering Program at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he also holds an endowed appointment serving as Mollenkopf Faculty Fellow. Building upon his background in soft matter physics (PhD, JKU Linz), mechanics and chemistry (Postdoc, Harvard University), he leads a highly interdisciplinary research group at Boulder, with a current focus on (I) soft robotics, (II) energy capture and (III) functional polymers. His work has been published in top journals including Science, Science Robotics, PNAS, Advanced Materials and Nature Chemistry, as well as highlighted in popular outlets such as National Geographic. He has received prestigious US awards such as a 2017 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, and international awards such as the 2013 EAPromising European Researcher Award from the European Scientific Network for Artificial Muscles. He is the principal inventor of HASEL artificial muscles, a new technology that will help enable a next generation of life-like robotic hardware; in 2018 he co-founded Artimus Robotics to commercialize the HASEL technology.