Soft Robot Swarms

Compared to traditional rigid systems, soft robots have the potential to be robust, cheap, versatile, and able to navigate in unpredictable environments and confined spaces. These are all features that would lend themselves well to a robot swarm. Currently, however, the majority of soft systems exploit air- or fluid-filled flexible chambers restricting them to the use of compressors or pumps through tethers or bulky payloads. Furthermore, few soft actuators are able to carry large payloads, or tune their rigidity when the circumstances require it. There is also still a need for better proprioceptive soft sensors to enable stand-alone soft robots. The following text describes our efforts to address these shortcomings, with the eventual goal of creating soft robot swarms, alongside soft interactive displays to facilitate new HRI studies.

Actuators in Soft Robots

We are exploring several paths to enable soft robot collectives including bio-inspired inching robots with small form-factor electro-mechanical backpacks, novel soft actuators that can exhibit very large deformations without the use of pumps and valves (work done at Max Planck), work on soft robots with granular fluids that enable rigidity transformation, and embodied intelligent designs that permit complex motions from just a single pump and valve.


  • Alexandra Nilles, Nils Napp, and Kirstin Petersen. “Strain-Based Consensus in Soft, Inflatable Robots”, Presented at the IEEE Intl. Conference on Soft Robotics (RoboSoft) 2022. (Video)
  • Jonathan Jaramillo, Andrew Lin, Emma Sung, Isabel Jane Hunt Richter, and Kirstin Petersen. “Mobile, Inflatable Interface to Support Human Robot Interaction Studies,” 2021 18th International Conference on Ubiquitous Robots (UR), 2021, pp. 320-325, doi: 10.1109/UR52253.2021.9494648. (Paper)(Bibtex)(Video)
  • Steven Ceron, Marta A. Kimmel, Alexandra Nilles and Kirstin H. Petersen, “Soft Robotic Oscillators with Strain-Based Coordination,” in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 7557-7563, Oct. 2021, doi: 10.1109/LRA.2021.3100599. (Paper)(Bibtex)
  • Danna Ma*, Steven Ceron*, Gregory Kaiser, and Kirstin Petersen, “Simple Low-Cost Fabrication of Soft Sensors for Feature Reconstruction”, Robotics Automation Letters and the Intl. Conference on Soft Robotics (RoboSoft), 2020. (Paper)(Video)(Bibtex)
  • Nialah J. Wilson*, Steven Ceron*, Logan Horowitz, and Kirstin H. Petersen. “Scalable and Robust Fabrication, Operation, and Control of Compliant Modular Robots”, Scientific Frontiers special issue on Designing Self-Organization in the Physical Realm, doi: 10.3389/frobt.2020.00044, 2020. (Paper)(Video)(Bibtex)
  • Steven Ceron, Nialah Wilson, Logan Horowitz, and Kirstin Petersen. “Comparative Analysis of Sensors in Rigid and Deformable Modular Robots for Shape Estimation”, Intl. Symp. for Multi-Robot and Multi-Agent Systems (MRS), 2019. (Paper)(Bibtex)
  • Steven Ceron*, Logan Horowitz*, Nialah Wilson, Claire Chen, Daniel Kim, and Kirstin Petersen. “DONUts: A Scalable, Self-Reconfigurable Robot with Compliant Modules”, extended abstract, Intl. Symp. for Multi-Robot and Multi-Agent Systems (MRS), 2019. *Co-first authors. (Paper)(Bibtex)
  • Petersen, Kirstin H., and Robert F. Shepherd. “Fluid-driven intrinsically soft robots.” In Robotic Systems and Autonomous Platforms, pp. 61-84. Woodhead Publishing, 2019. (Book chapter)
  • T. Duggan*, L. Horowitz*, A. Ulug*, E. Baker, and K. Petersen. “Inchworm-Inspired Locomotion in Untethered Soft Robots”. International Conference on Soft Robotics (RoboSoft), 2019. *Equally contributing first authors. (Paper)(Teaser video)(Bibtex).
  • C. Futran, S. Ceron, B. MacMurray, R. Shepherd, and K. Petersen. “Leveraging Fluid-Resistance in Soft Robots”. First international IEEE-RAS conference on Soft Robotics (RoboSoft), Livorno, 2018. (Pdf)
  • S. Ceron, A. Kurumunda, E. Garg, M. Kim, T. Yeku, and K. Petersen. “Popcorn-Driven Robotic Actuators”. IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Brisbane, 2018. (Pdf)
  • P. Polygerinos, N. Correll, S. Morin, B. Mosadegh, C. Onal, K. Petersen, M. Cianchetti, M. Tolley, and R. Shepherd. “Soft Robotics: Review of Fluid-Driven Intrinsically Soft Devices; Manufacturing, Sensing, Control, and Applications in Human-Robot Interaction”. Advanced Materials (2017). DOI: 10.1002/adem.201700016. (Paper) (CoverMost read in July 2017.
  • L. Hines, K. Petersen, and M. Sitti. “Asymmetric Stable States in Inflated Dielectric Elastomer Actuators”. IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Singapore, 2017. (Pdf)
  • L. Hines*, K. Petersen*, G. Z. Lum, and M. Sitti. “Soft Actuators for Small-Scale Robotics.” Advanced Materials (2016): 1521-4095. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201603483. *Equally contributing authors. (Paper)
  • L. Hines*, K. Petersen*, and M. Sitti. Inflated Soft Actuators with Reversible Stable Deformations. Communication Advanced Materials. 10.1002/adma.201600107, 2016. *Equally contributing authors. (Paper)