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Design and Control of Wireless Miniature Soft Robots for Biomedical Application

Primary Investigators:
Prof. Xiaoguang Dong received his Ph.D. degree from the Department of Mechanical Engineering (specialized in Robotics) at Carnegie Mellon University. He then worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Stuttgart, Germany. Prof. Dong has long been working on the design, manufacture and control of miniature robots for important applications such as biomedicine. His research works have been published in several top journals and conferences in the field of robotics, such as IEEE Transactions on Robotics, International Journal of Robotics Research, The IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS). His interdisciplinary bioinspired robotics works have also been published in the top multidisciplinary journals such as Science Advances, PNAS and Nature Communications. The research activities of Dong Lab focus on three aspects: 1) The design, manufacture and control of miniature soft robots, and their applications in minimally invasive medicine, microfluidics and biomechanics. 2) The design, manufacture and control of miniature swarm robots, and their applications in biomedicine and biomechanics. 3) The modeling, design, manufacture and control of intelligent soft materials and devices based on mechanics model and machine learning.
Brief Description of Project:
Small-scale robots with an overall size less than one centimeter that can be wirelessly actuated, monitored and controlled, could revolutionize minimally invasive medical operations by allowing access to enclosed small spaces inside the human body and performing medical operations such as drug delivery, onsite biofluid pumping and biopsy. Wirelessly powered small-scale robots using stimuli-responsive material and mechanisms which can be actuated by magnetic fields are especially promising, as magnetic fields can penetrate most nonmagnetic materials such as biological tissue and induce relatively large magnetic forces and torques on the robot body for remote and precise actuation. Despite recent advances in this field, critical challenges still exist in creating intelligent miniature robots that could navigate through complex confined fluid-filled environments and demonstrate practical medical functionalities. This project aims to develop wirelessly actuated shape-morphing material and mechanisms, and their enabled devices and robots for specific biomedical application. These robots or devices will be designed by developing fundamental mechanisms of generating complex, large, and reconfigurable shapes, with the guidance of computational models. They are fabricated with advanced micro-fabrication techniques and controlled to move to target locations using a desired locomotion in challenging environments, to further perform medical operations such as drug delivery, biopsy, biofluids pumping, and other functions. Project outcomes include a project report which could potentially be turned out to a manuscript to be submitted to a proper journal or a top robotic conference such as RSS, ICRA, etc.

Desired Qualifications:
We are interested in self-motivated, responsible and independent students, who are particularly interested in miniature robotics, soft robotics and medical robotics for the 2022 SUGRE program (VUSE Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program). The student should be comfortable with mechatronic systems, and ideally have experience related to control, mechatronics, flexible electronics or smart materials. Knowledge on Robot Operation Systems, NI Labview, Arduino, Matlab Python, and other software or programming languages are preferred. Previous experience on soft robots or flexible electronics is a plus. He/she should be prepared to learn new skills such as miniature soft robot fabrication, modeling and control which are needed to complete the project(s). For existing projects, please visit our website: You are welcome to contact Prof. Xiaoguang Dong for further discussion about your background via email.
Nature of Supervision:
You are expected to be self-motivated to constantly sustain progress on your project and incorporate feedback from Prof. Dong and the PhD students in the lab. You will work in a very collaborative environment with other undergraduate and graduate students. Weekly research summary reports to the Principal Investigator (PI) help the student to track their progress and get prompt feedback from the PI. Weekly group meetings are held with Prof. Dong and other members of the team. The group meeting includes presentations and discussions of ongoing research projects. You are expected to present your project progress as well as actively giving feedback to other students’ projects in the group meetings. For additional details on the undergraduate research experience and expectations please visit our lab website:
A Brief Research Plan (period is for 10 weeks):

Weeks 1: Read background literature, learn to use core equipment, software, and customized experimental setup in the lab
Weeks 2-5: Perform experiments, simulation, and/or device instrumentation and control depending on the project tasks and progress
Weeks 6-8: Perform characterization of robots/devices, and collect experimental and simulation data 
Weeks 9-10: Analyze experimental and simulation results, and finalize/report findings 

(More details on the project plan will be provided when contacting the PI)

Number of Open Slots: 1
Contact Information:
Name: Xiaoguang Dong
Department: Mechanical Engineering