Capability by Stacking: The Current Design Heuristic for Soft Robots

Stephen Mahon, Jamie Roberts, Mohammed Sayed, Derek Chun, Simona Aracri, Ross Mckenzie, Markus Nemitz, Adam Stokes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soft robots are a new class of systems being developed and studied by robotics scientists. These systems have a diverse range of applications including sub-sea manipulation and rehabilitative robotics. In their current state of development, the prevalent paradigm for the control architecture in these systems is a one-to-one mapping of controller outputs to actuators. In this work, we define functional blocks as the physical implementation of some discrete behaviours, which are presented as a decomposition of the behaviour of the soft robot. We also use the term stacking as the ability to combine functional blocks to create a system that is more complex and has greater capability than the sum of its parts. By stacking functional blocks a system designer can increase the range of behaviours and the overall capability of the system. As the community continues to increase the capabilities of soft systems—by stacking more and more functional blocks—we will encounter a practical limit with the number of parallelised control lines. In this paper, we review 20 soft systems reported in the literature and we observe this trend of one-to-one mapping of control outputs to functional blocks. We also observe that stacking functional-blocks results in systems that are increasingly capable of a diverse range of complex motions and behaviours, leading ultimately to systems that are capable of performing useful tasks. The design heuristic that we observe is one of increased capability by stacking simple units—a classic engineering approach. As the community moves towards more capability in soft robotic systems, and we begin to reach practical limits in control, we predict that we will require increased amounts of autonomy in the system. The field of soft robotics is in its infancy, and as we move towards realizing the potential of this technology, we will need to develop design tools and control paradigms that allow us to handle the complexity in these stacked, non-linear systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'Capability by Stacking: The Current Design Heuristic for Soft Robots'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this