Areas of Research
Robotics and Autonomy

Creating machines that interact with complex environments, make decisions, take action, and collaborate with humans and one another

On land, in air, in space, and underwater, as individuals and as teams, autonomous machines increasingly impact infrastructure, healthcare, security, manufacturing, and the environment. Our research in robotics and autonomy drives fundamental advances in materials, actuation, and sensing and control; sensorimotor integration; locomotion, manipulation, and swarm behavior; machine perception and cognition; and human-robot interaction.

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Research Area Subtopics

A model of a fish's electrosensory system. (M. MacIver)

Bio-inspiration, Neuromechanics, and Neuroscience

We study sensorimotor integration in model animal systems to better understand neuromechanics and to derive inspiration for robots. We particularly seek to understand how animals move their bodies and sensory organs in order to execute behaviors, such as prey capture. Model systems include rat whisking and the electrosense of the black ghost knifefish.

Surface haptics on glass touchscreens.
(E. Colgate, M. Peshkin)

Human-machine Systems

We investigate a broad range of topics in human-machine systems including haptic interfaces to virtual environments, haptic feedback on touch surfaces, human-in-the-loop control systems to augment motor learning, human-robot co-adaptation, especially in the context of rehabilitation, and dynamic allocation of autonomy in the context of human-robot teams.

A swarm of 100 coordinating ground robots.
(M. Rubenstein)

Swarm Robotics and Decentralized Computation

Networked systems often exhibit emergent behavior. In nature, for example, flocks of birds, schools of fish, and swarms of bees all develop cohesive global behavior from purely local interactions. We develop tools to design local control, communication, and estimation laws for individual agents that yield a desired group behavior such as self-assembly or locomotion.

Gait generation for quadruped locomotion (T. Murphey)
Gait generation for quadruped locomotion. (T. Murphey)

Autonomous Systems

Autonomous systems use sensory data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and motion planning and control to make real-time decisions about how to act in changing environments. We explore new ways for robots, vehicles, and other powered devices to achieve sophisticated autonomous behaviors, including locomotion on complex terrain, multi-fingered or nonprehensile manipulation, and automation in manufacturing.

A 3D printed soft robotic hand with distributed ionogel sensors. (R. Truby)
A 3-D printed soft robotic hand with distributed ionogel
sensors. (R. Truby)

Soft Robotics

We develop soft devices and machines with novel bioinspired actuation, perception, control, and power capabilities. This work includes the synthesis and characterization of functional soft, polymeric, and nanoscale materials, the development of novel additive and digital manufacturing methods, and the design of soft robotic structures with embedded sensors, actuators, and control.

ME Faculty

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Brenna Argall

Associate Professor of Computer Science

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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Jian Cao

Cardiss Collins Professor of Mechanical Engineering and (by courtesy) Civil and Environmental Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering

Director, Northwestern Initiative for Manufacturing Science and Innovation (NIMSI)

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J. Edward Colgate

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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Kornel Ehmann

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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Ping Guo

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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Mitra Hartmann

Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Director of Graduate Studies for Biomedical Engineering

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Kevin Lynch

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Director, Center for Robotics and Biosystems

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Malcolm MacIver

Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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Todd Murphey

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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Michael Peshkin

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Breed Senior Professor of Design

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Michael Rubenstein

Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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Ryan Truby

Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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Courtesy Faculty

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John Rogers

Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery (and by courtesy Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry and Dermatology)

Director, Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics

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Petia Vlahovska

Professor of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics (by courtesy) Mechanical Engineering

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