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At the Frontiers of Soft Robotics: Lessons Learnt from the RoboSoft Grand Challenge

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Soft Robotics is a rising discipline which harvests compliance and deformability to explore novel application scenarios and enhance interaction with the environment. Soft robots adapt to the environment and deform their bodies upon contacts, so that novel design, fabrication, control and actuation ...

Soft Robotics is a rising discipline which harvests compliance and deformability to explore novel application scenarios and enhance interaction with the environment. Soft robots adapt to the environment and deform their bodies upon contacts, so that novel design, fabrication, control and actuation methodologies are required. Being often inspired by Nature, soft robotics is collecting working principles from soft creatures like caterpillars, octopuses, jellyfishes or plants, and the technological development of soft components (sensors, actuators, bodies, etc...) is extremely heterogeneous and lively.

In recent years, robotic challenges helped steer the technological development of robotic systems, and fostered advanced, long-term solutions in the field of robotics and automation at large. Competitions are not only a way to promote technological progresses, but they are also a means to evaluated very different solutions to common problems. The RoboSoft Grand Challenge is a competition which invited teams to test the design and control of their robots in challenging scenarios. It was organized in April 2016 in the framework of the EU FET-Open RoboSoft Coordination Action on Soft Robotics. It was intended for soft robots and the tasks were designed to tackle specific features of soft robots, like resilience, body compliance, delicate contact and deformability. The overall aim of the challenge was twofold: on one hand, it challenged state of the art soft robots; on the other hand it pushed the performance of soft robots beyond the state of the art to foster novel soft robotics solutions. The RoboSoft Grand Challenge was made of scenarios which approximate real-world robot applications, where specific parts required peculiar robot features which were never requested in other competitions so far, such as body shrinking, delicate contact and compliant manipulation. Two different scenarios were used for the RoboSoft Challenge:
1. a locomotion scenario, which simulated an urban area (comprising an unstable building) which is not accessible by humans: the robot should be deployed far from the building, than it should go inside it passing through a small aperture and negotiate the environment to reach the end of the scenario.
2. a manipulation scenario where, in a structured environment, the robot should interact with several objects featuring complex shapes and different materials, then it should apply a certain force to the environment. This reproduced industrial, surgical or domestic scenarios where the robot is required to manipulate particular objects or to inspect structures.

In this Research Topic, we invite participants of the RoboSoft Grand Challenge to present the innovative solutions they developed to tackle the different scenarios. The advancement on the state of the art can be related to one or more part of the overall realization chain of their robots, which start from the conceptual design from users' needs (tasks of the scenarios), and then go to working principles, fabrication methodologies, control, deployment and development. The performance of the robot and the lessons learnt from the tasks are valuable contributions as well.


Keywords: Soft Robotics, Morphological Computation, Robotics Challenges, Compliant locomotion, Compliant manipulation


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be in line with the scope of the specialty and field to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Manuscripts discovered during any stage of peer review to be outside of the scope may be transferred to a suitable section or field, or withdrawn from review.

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