Tuesday 11 July 2023

Force and shape generation by molecular-scale contractility

Peter Fratzl

Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces

Molecular-scale contractility plays an essential role in shape-forming processes as well as for the motility of biological tissues. This is true in plants where osmotic pressure actuates leaves and controls cell growth. But even in dead plant tissue, such as awns and seed capsules, humidity uptake from air results in volume changes of the cell walls and, thereby, in force generation and actuation. Molecular motors, such as myosin coupled to actin filaments, generate contractile forces in animal tissues. In addition to their well-known function in muscles, they also help generating complex shapes in growing tissues. Recent in vitro experiments combined with theoretical modeling show that actin filament contraction in near surface regions of a growing micro-tissue controls the development of complex shapes, in analogy to the effect of surface tension. Other molecular systems, such as collagen fibrils, also generate contractile stress in the extracellular matrix when subjected to osmotic pressure or to mineralization. This force generation is, for example, an essential contribution to fracture resistance in bone or dentin. The talk reviews recent work on some molecular-scale contractile biological fibers.


Peter Fratzl studies hierarchical structure and mechanical behavior of biological and bioinspired materials, contributing to solving problems in medicine and engineering. He obtained an engineering degree from Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France, and a doctorate in Physics from University of Vienna, Austria. He is director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, heading the Department of Biomaterials, and honorary professor at Potsdam University and at Humboldt University Berlin. He also co-directs an interdisciplinary Cluster of Excellence between sciences, humanities and design ( He is member of several Academies of Science, of the German National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech) and the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

Plant Based Biohybrid Systems

Eleni Stavrinidou

Linköping University

Plant processes such as photosynthesis, production of biomaterials and environmental sensing and adaptation, can be leveraged for technological purposes via integration of functional materials and devices. We demonstrated that plants can be functionalized with electronic materials by leveraging their biocatalytic machinery. Specifically, conjugated oligomers based on thiophene and EDOT polymerize in-vivo forming conductors within the plant structure. We showed that the polymerization is enzymatically catalyzed by endogenous peroxidases that are present in the plant cell wall, resulting in conducting polymers integrated within the cell wall structure. The plant is not only catalyzing the polymerization but also templates the polymer in a favorable manner. Recently we demonstrated intact plants with electronic roots that continue to grow and develop enabling plant-biohybrid systems that maintain fully their biological processes. The electronic roots were used to build supercapacitors and biohybrid circuits to power low power electrochemical devices. The supercapacitors can be charged via conventional organic photovoltaics or via conversion of glucose at the root system when we incorporate glucose sensitive enzymes in the root conductor, getting a step closer to an autonomous system fully integrated in the plant. The plants were not affected by the electronic functionalization but adapted to this new hybrid state by developing a more complex root system. Biohybrid plants pave the way for autonomous systems with potential applications in energy, sensing and robotics.


Eleni Stavrinidou is an Associate Professor and leader of the Electronic Plants group at Linköping University. She received a PhD in Microelectronics from EMSE (France) in 2014. She then did her postdoctoral training at Linköping University (Sweden) during which she was awarded a Marie Curie fellowship. In 2017 Eleni Stavrinidou became Assistant Professor in Organic Electronics at Linköping University and established the Electronic Plants group. She received several grants including a Swedish Research Council Starting Grant and a FET-OPEN grant which she was the coordinator. In 2019 she received the L’ORÉAL-UNESCO For Women in Science prize in Sweden. In 2020 she became Associate Professor and Docent in Applied Physics. The same year she was awarded the Future Research Leaders grant of the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research. In 2021 she was awarded the ERC-Staring Grant. Her research interests focus on plant bioelectronics for real time monitoring and dynamic control of plant physiology and plant-based biohybrid systems for energy and sensing applications.

Wednesday 12 July 2023

Self-Organizing Nervous System for Robot Swarms

Marco Dorigo

Université Libre de Bruxelles

Typically, robot swarms coordinate through self-organization.

With the proposal of the self-organizing nervous system concept, we study how self-organisation can be made more powerful as a tool to coordinate the activities of a robot swarm by adding some components of hierarchical control.

In the presentation, I will give a brief overview of the self-organizing nervous system and then illustrate the first steps we have made in implementing it in a heterogeneous swarm composed of drones and ground robots.


Marco Dorigo received the Ph.D. degree in electronic engineering in 1992 from Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy. From 1992 to 1993, he was a Research Fellow at the International Computer Science Institute, Berkeley, CA. In 1993, he was a NATO-CNR Fellow, and from 1994 to 1996, a Marie Curie Fellow. Since 1996, he has been a tenured Researcher of the FNRS, the Belgian National Funds for Scientific Research, and co-director of IRIDIA, the artificial intelligence laboratory of the ULB.

His current research interests include swarm intelligence, swarm robotics, and metaheuristics for discrete optimization. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Swarm Intelligence, and a member of the editorial boards of many journals on computational intelligence and adaptive systems.

Dr. Dorigo is a Fellow of the AAAI, EurAI, and IEEE and ERC Advanced Grant recipient. He was awarded numerous international prizes among which the Marie Curie Excellence Award in 2003, the IEEE Frank Rosenblatt Award in 2015, and the IEEE Evolutionary Computation Pioneer Award, awarded in 2016.

From Romeo & Juliet to OceanOneK Deep-Sea Robotic Exploration

Oussama Khatib

Stanford University

OceanOneK is a robotic diver with a high degree of autonomy for physical interaction with the environment while connected to a human expert through an intuitive interface. The robot was recently deployed in several archeological expeditions in the Mediterranean with the ability to reach 1000 meters. Distancing humans physically from dangerous and unreachable spaces while connecting their skills, intuition, and experience to the task.


Oussama Khatib received his PhD from Sup’Aero, Toulouse, France, in 1980. He is Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Robotics Laboratory at Stanford University. His research focuses on methodologies and technologies in human-centered robotics, haptic interactions, artificial intelligence, human motion synthesis and animation. He is President of the International Foundation of Robotics Research (IFRR) and an IEEE Fellow. He is Editor of the Springer STAR and SPAR series, and Springer Handbook of Robotics. He is recipient of the IEEE Robotics and Automation, Pioneering Award, the George Saridis Leadership Award, the Distinguished Service Award, the Japan Robot Association (JARA) Award, the Rudolf Kalman Award, and the IEEE Technical Field Award. Professor Khatib is Knight of the National Order of Merit and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Thursday 13 July 2023

Nature-inspired designs for innovating soft robotic grippers and prosthetics

Kyu-Jin Cho

Seoul National University

In this talk, I will discuss research conducted at our Soft Robotics Research Center and Biorobotics Lab, with an emphasis on the development of grippers and prosthetics inspired by the adaptive behaviors and embodied intelligence observed in nature. Traditional robots are designed for structured environments and navigate unstructured environments using sensors and intricate computation. To adapt to and flourish in unstructured environments, nature employs simple embodied intelligence, which does not necessarily require sensing or complex computation.

This presentation will explore the iterative and multidisciplinary approach to nature-inspired design, a process that involves identifying engineering challenges, investigating natural solutions, deriving novel principles from nature, fabricating robots, and evaluating their performance through experimentation. This feedback loop leads to the modification and refinement of hypotheses, stimulating further iterations of the process.

By delving into the successes and lessons learned from our research, I intend to demonstrate the potential of nature-inspired design to provide effective and innovative solutions to real-world problems in the fields of soft robotics and prosthetics by analyzing the successes, limitations and lessons learned from our research.


Kyu Jin Cho is a Professor and the Director of Soft Robotics Research Center and Biorobotics Lab at Seoul National University. He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from MIT and his B.S and M.S. from Seoul National University. He was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory before joining SNU in 2008. He has been exploring novel soft bio-inspired robot designs, including a water jumping robot, various shape changing robots and soft wearable robots for the disabled. He has received the 2014 IEEE RAS Early Academic Career Award for his fundamental contributions to soft robotics and biologically inspired robot design. He has published a Science paper on water jumping robot and several papers in Science Robotics with novel robot designs. He served as a general chair of RoboSoft 2019, management committee of TMECH, Associate Editor for TRO, Senior Editor for Robotics and Automation Letters. He also served RAS as associate VP of Publication Activities Board, and currently serves as VP of the RAS Technical Activities Board.

Damage control: A technical challenge solved by plants?

Olga Speck

University of Freiburg

During evolution, various functional principles have evolved that enable plants to control damage. At the interface between biology and technology, damage control in plants, which includes damage prevention and damage management, is a treasure trove for technical solutions of robust and resilient material systems, but also for the targeted separation of material systems. Damage prevention, in the sense of remaining intact in the event of damage, is achieved in plants through superimposed gradients that result in smooth changes of geometric and mechanical properties. In addition, plants prevent damage through their ability to react to environmental changes without being harmed by response, acclimation, and adaptation. Damage management, in the sense of regaining the original functionality after injury, is achieved in plants by rapid self-sealing and subsequent self-healing of wounds or by redundancy systems. However, the shedding of plant organs is also a form of temporally and spatially controlled damage management through the formation of abrupt changes in geometric and mechanical properties in an abscission zone. The talk will present various functional principles of damage control in plants, already realized biomimetic applications and future possible applications with high longevity potential.


Olga Speck studied biology and sports at the University of Freiburg (Germany) and received her PhD in 2003 on vibration damping in plants. Since 2002, she supervised research and development projects within her research interests (i) functional morphology and biomechanics of plants, (ii) bioinspired materials systems such as self-repairing materials systems, adaptive materials systems and composite materials, (iii) biomimetics and sustainable technology development and (iv) education and training in the fields of biomechanics and biomimetics.

Olga Speck is Principal Investigator in the Cluster of Excellence “Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems (livMatS)” at the University of Freiburg (Germany). At the interface between Area C “Longevity” and Area D “Societal Challenges”, she supervises research projects on damage control in plants such as self-repair and abscission as a model for technical applications and sustainable technology solutions.