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Mechanical Engineering

Research Groups: Mechatronics, Control & Design

Advanced Robotics and Mechanism Applications (ARMA)
Professor Nabil Simaan

The Advanced Robotics and Mechanism Applications (ARMA) lab is focused on the design of new mechanical robotic architectures. The main focus of the appliactions is on surgical assitance. We investigate algorithms of control and design of sensory mechaisms for enabling new procedures and for supporting intelligent and safe interaction with the anatomy. Existing and past research projects include synthesis of novel robotic systems for surgical assistance in confined spaces with applications to minimally invasive surgery of the throat, natural orifice surgery, single port access surgery, design of steerable electrode arrays and robotic path planning for cochlear implant surgery, dexterous bimanual microsurgery of the retina, and trans-urethreal surgical intervention. Theoretical aspects of the research include theoretical kinematics of mechanisms, synthesis and optimization of robots and mechanisms including flexible snake robots, design of flexure mechanisms and flexible robots, parallel robots, applications of line geometry tools and screw theory for analysis and synthesis of robotic devices, applications of actuation redundancy and kinematic redundancy for stiffness control (modulation), applications of algebraic geometry methods for polynomial system solving related to mechanism designs, optimal path planing and insertion of flexible under actuated robots.

ARMA has projects funded by the NIH, NSF, and industry. Both graduate and undergraduate students are provided a unique education with a rare balance between design, control, system integration, and theoretical modeling of novel robotic systems. The lab facility has a full array of mechanical and electronic fabrication capabilities.  Full descrfiption of the lab activities is provided at http://arma.vuse.vanderbilt.edu/

Biomechanics & Assistive Technology Laboratory
Professor Karl Zelik

The Biomechanics & Assistive Technology laboratory performs experimental and computational research on human locomotion by combining techniques from engineering, biomechanics, bio-signal analysis and neural control of movement. The mission of our lab is to (1) gain a deeper understanding of mechanisms underlying legged locomotion, and (2) develop devices that better interface with and augment human movement, in order to improve mobility and quality of life for individuals with locomotor impairments. In effect, we study how humans move and why we move the way that we do, then use these biological insights to motivate advances in assistive and rehabilitative technology. To study human movement we use state-of-the-art measurement equipment, including an infrared motion capture system, force-instrumented treadmill, portable respirometry system and electromyographic (muscle activity) sensors. We develop new experimental approaches for assessing human mobility, and also perform computational simulations to better elucidate fundamental principles underlying locomotion. The goal is to translate our neuromechanical understanding of locomotion to improvements in the design and control of assistive technologies such as lower-limb prostheses. This interdisciplinary research is performed in collaboration with both local and international engineering and clinical partners.

Center for Intelligent Mechatronics
Professor Michael Goldfarb

The design and control of electro-mechanical devices is the primary concern of this center, in which major efforts in the development of piezoelectrically-actuated small scale mobile robots, of piezoelectric motors, and of macro-micro telemanipulator systems for scaled bilateral teleoperation have been sustained.  Other work has involved issues related to the design of haptic interfaces and virtual mechanical environments, and the development of smart material based actuators.  The center includes a full complement of facilities for the prototyping, testing, and analysis of electromechanical devices.

Laboratory for the Design and Control of Energetic Systems

Professor Eric J. Barth 

The Laboratory for the Design and Control of Energetic Systems seeks to apply a system dynamics and control perspective to problems involving the control and transduction of energy. This scope includes multi-physics modeling, control methodologies formulation, and model-based or model-guided design. The space of applications where this framework has been applied includes nonlinear controllers and nonlinear observers for pneumatically actuated systems, a combined thermodynamic / system dynamics approach to the design of free piston internal combustion and external heat source engines, modeling and model-based design and control of monopropellant systems, hydraulic energy storage, small-scale boundary layer turbines, and energy-based approaches for single and multiple vehicle control and guidance.

Medical Engineering and Discovery Laboratory

Professor Robert J. Webster III

The MED lab is a place where doctors and engineers work side by side to create new lifesaving medical technologies. We design and construct devices (often robots, but also useful non-robotic devices) to make interventional medicine more accurate, less invasive, and more effective. With a world-class medical center a 5-minute walk from the lab, we are often in operating rooms observing surgical procedures and conducting experiments with the devices we build. We also patent our work, which enables us to transfer it to commercial products, amplifying its real-world impact. Our partners include startup companies such as Pathfinder Theraputics and Acoustic MedSystems, as well as larger companies including Intuitive Surgical and MathWorks. Current major projects include a surgical robot with tentacle-like, needle-diameter arms that removes tumors from the center of the head through the nose (partnership with Neurosurgery), a parallel robot that reduces invasiveness in cochlear implant surgery which restores hearing to the deaf (partnership with Otolanrygology), as well as robotic systems to improve lung surgery, prostate surgery, and several different neurosurgical procedures. We often combine medical images, mechanics-based models, and advanced sensors and actuators to help doctors treat their patients more effectively. Graduate and undergraduate students in the MED Lab receive a unique educational experience in which they work side by side with surgeons, and are encouraged to pursue not only ongoing lab projects, but also their own ideas as they learn to be innovators in surgical engineering and robotics.

Robotics and Autonomous Systems Laboratory

Professor Nilanjan Sarkar

The focus of this laboratory is both theoretical investigation into the dynamics of mechanical and electro-mechanical systems and the application of advanced planning and control strategies for controlling such systems.  Primary research efforts are on the dynamics and control of autonomous dynamic systems, such as robotic manipulators, mobile robots, mobile manipulators, and other robotic devices.  The aim is to combine the advantages of several robotic systems to design a more versatile autonomous system.  The potential applicaitions of such research can be in manufacturing, medical robotics, and in various service areas where robotic assistance is useful to the human operators.  Other research interests of this laboratory include the areas of modeling and control of hybrid dynamic systems and biologically inspired robotics.  Hybrid dynamic systems involve both discrete and continuous time dynamics and are useful in a variety of applications.  Biologically inspired robotics seeks to improve the design and performance of robots by studying living systems (e.g., insects, animals, etc.).  Future work will include the use of predictive virtual environments for autonomous exploration.