Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Cagdas D. Onal, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Zhi Li, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Pietro Valdastri, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Gregory S. Fischer, Advisor




Mechanical compliance will be an essential component for agile robots as they begin to leave the laboratory settings and join our world. The most crucial finding of this dissertation is showing how lessons learned from soft robotics can be adapted into traditional robotics to introduce compliance. Therefore, it presents practical knowledge on how to build soft bodied sensor and actuation modules: first example being soft-bodied curvature sensors. These sensors contain both standard electronic components soldered on flexible PCBs and hyperelastic materials that cover the electronics. They are built by curing multi-material composites inside hyper elastic materials. Then it shows, via precise sensing by using magnets and Hall-effect sensors, how closed-loop control of soft actuation modules can be achieved via proprioceptive feedback.

Once curvature sensing idea is verified, the dissertation describes how the same sensing methodology, along with the same multi-material manufacturing technique can be utilized to construct soft bodied tri-axial force sensors. It shows experimentally that these sensors can be used by traditional robotic grippers to increase grasping quality.

At this point, I observe that compliance is an important property that robots may utilize for different types of motions. One example being Raibert's 2D hopper mechanism. It uses its leg-spring to store energy while on the ground and release this energy before jumping. I observe that via soft material design, it would be possible to embed compliance directly into the linkage design itself. So I go over the design details of an extremely lightweight compliant five-bar mechanism design that can store energy when compressed via soft ligaments embedded in its joints. I experimentally show that the compliant leg design offers increased efficiency compared to a rigid counterpart. I also utilize the previously mentioned soft bodied force sensors for rapid contact detection (~5-10 Hz) in the hopper test platform.

In the end, this thesis connects soft robotics with the traditional body of robotic knowledge in two aspects: a) I show that manufacturing techniques we use for soft bodied sensor/actuator designs can be utilized for creating soft ligaments that add strength and compliance to robot joints; and b) I demonstrate that soft bodied force sensing techniques can be used reliably for robotic contact detection.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Robotics Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





legged robotics control soft robotics robotics