Biodesign Lab & Bertoldi Group, Harvard University

The Harvard Biodesign Lab (led by Professor Conor Walsh) seeks to develop new soft robotic technologies to facilitate more robust interactions between humans and robots. Previously, the lab has developed exosuits made out of soft materials such as textiles and rubber that increase the strength or biomechanical efficiency of the wearer. These exosuits are intended for both medical, military, and industrial applications. Additionally, the lab has made novel contributions to the areas of soft actuator design and surgical robotics.

The Bertoldi Group (led by Professor Katia Bertoldi) focuses on the design, modeling, and experimental characterization of structured materials, seeking to achieve interesting properties not otherwise possible with simple materials. Previous work has focused on auxetic structures, kirigami, soft-robotic actuator development, and bio-inspired design.

In my PhD research, I hope to leverage the strengths of both my research groups, applying computational modeling techniques to the analysis and optimization of wearable soft-robotic systems. In particular, I have been working with woven-textile pneumatic actuators for shoulder joint assistance. These actuators form the core of a broader effort to develop upper-limb exosuits in the Biodesign Lab that assist a wearer’s own muscle strength to either reduce the risk of injury in industrial settings or to aid individuals facing neuromuscular conditions such as spinal-cord injuries or strokes.

To date, much of the research in soft robotics has been empirically driven, given the complex mechanics involved in predicting the deformation of soft structures. Through the use of numerical simulations, I hope to develop a more deterministic and efficient strategy for tackling these complex design problems, so that the behavior of an actuator can be predicted without fabricating it. This will eventually allow for the systematic optimization of the soft robot’s performance.