A soft robot that adapts to environments through shape change

Dylan S. Shah, Joshua P. Powers, Liana G. Tilton, Sam Kriegman, Josh Bongard, Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Many organisms, including various species of spiders and caterpillars, change their shape to switch gaits and adapt to different environments. Recent technological advances, ranging from stretchable circuits to highly deformable soft robots, have begun to make shape-changing robots a possibility. However, it is currently unclear how and when shape change should occur, and what capabilities could be gained, leading to a wide range of unsolved design and control problems. To begin addressing these questions, here we simulate, design and build a soft robot that utilizes shape change to achieve locomotion over both a flat and inclined surface. Modelling this robot in simulation, we explore its capabilities in two environments and demonstrate the automated discovery of environment-specific shapes and gaits that successfully transfer to the physical hardware. We found that the shape-changing robot traverses these environments better than an equivalent but non-morphing robot, in simulation and reality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-59
Number of pages9
JournalNature Machine Intelligence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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