Current Projects

Current Projects | Videos | Publications 

Autonomous Micro UAVs

We are creating autonomous flying robots that are able to navigate in complex, three-dimensional environments with or without GPS with applications to search and rescue, first response and precision farming. The robots are quadrotors with onboard sensors and processors customized for state estimation, control and planning. We rely on a range of sensors that can include an IMU, cameras, a laser range scanner, an altimeter and a GPS sensor. Our smallest robot has a mass of 20 grams and is capable of navigating at 6 m/s in indoor environments. That’s about 53 Body lengths/second. Our largest robot is nearly 2 kgs and can navigate indoors or outdoors, through forests, buildings, and farms. For more information, see websites of researchers below.

Grants: MAST, ONR SMART, NSF ARREST/PFI, NSF Printable Robots
Research Staff: Giuseppe Loianno
Students: Yash Mulgaonkar,  Kartik Mohta, Sikang Liu, Tolga Ozaslan, Sarah Tang, Justin Thomas,
Scalable sWarms of Autonomous Robots and Mobile Sensors (SWARMS)

We are interested in developing a framework and methodology for the analysis of swarming behavior in biology and the synthesis of bio-inspired swarming behavior for engineered systems. We are interested in such questions as: Can large numbers of autonomously functioning vehicles be reliably deployed in the form of a “swarm” to carry out a prescribed mission and to respond as a group to high-level management commands? Can such a group successfully function in a potentially hostile environment, without a designated leader, with limited communications between its members, and/or with different and potentially dynamically changing “roles” for its members? What can we learn about how to organize these teams from biological groupings such as insect swarms, bird flocks, and fish schools? Is there a hierarchy of “compatible” models appropriate to swarming/schooling/flocking which is rich enough to explain these behaviors at various “resolutions” ranging from aggregate characterizations of emergent behavior to detailed descriptions which model individual vehicle dynamics? For more information, visit or websites of researchers below.

Grants: ONR Antidote, DARPA Temp, Terraswarms, MAST
Research Staff: Ed Steager
Students: Denise Wong, Tee Ramaithitima,
Micro Bio Robots

We are interested in synthesizing Micro Bio Robots (MBRs), robots that are 10-100 µm in size powered by biological sensors and/or actuators, as well as intelligent control and planning software. MBRs capable of navigating micro scale environments have applications in drug discovery, proteomics, therapeutics, and micro assembly. Our research focuses on fundamental problems underlying mobility and adhesion of bacteria, swarming interactions between bacteria, and micro robot navigation in fluid channels, to the synthesis of bio sensors and biological circuits for sensor-actuator-communication loops. For more information, visit websites of researchers below.

Grants: ONR MBR, ONR Antidote
Research Staff: Ed Steagear
Students: Elizabeth Beattie, Denise Wong,
Cooperative Manipulation and Transport

How can independent, autonomous robots collaborate to perform such manipulation tasks as lifting and transporting large or heavy payloads? There are several examples in nature where individuals cooperate to perform tasks they individually cannot perform. In collaboration with biologists, we study how ants engage in cooperative prey retrieval carrying large, awkwardly shaped morsels of food back to their nest. We also study bacteria lifting and swimming with large payloads. Using biological inspiration we develop models, design algorithms and create robotic systems that are able to cooperate both on the ground and in the air.

Grants: ONR Antidote, NSF Human-robot Coordinated Manipulation and Transportation of Large Objects
Students: Monroe Kennedy, Denise Wong
Printable Robots

We are creating the desktop technology that prints programmable, printable robots lowering the barrier to entry in the field of robotics and enabling consumers to use robots in their lives. Just as the personal computer made it possible to synthesize and manipulate bits of information, analyze data before reducing the results to a printer, we want to make it possible to create and manipulate designs of physical objects and use such technologies as 3-D printing to create robots on demand. Our immediate focus is on creating small, autonomous flying robots and modular robots that can be reconfigured for grasping, manipulation and locomotion. For more information, visit websites of researchers below.

Grants: NSF Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines
Students: Mickey Whitzer, Chao Qu,  Yash Mulgaonkar,
Robot Motion Planning

Our work in motion planning has three goals. First, we are interested in topological representations of the set of possible trajectories called homologies, the effect of environment uncertainty on these homology classes, and exploration of partially known environments by multiple robots using topological (instead of metric) information. Second, we are interested in how these topological representations can lead to natural human robot interaction. Finally, we are interested in motion planning algorithms for large teams of robots with dynamic constraints, especially when the robots are identical and therefore interchangeable.  For more information, visit websites of researchers below.

Research Staff: Subhrajit Bhattacharya
Students: Tee Ramaithitima
RAPID: Aerial Robots for Remote Autonomous Exploration and Mapping

We are interested in exploring the possibility of leveraging an autonomous quadrotor in earthquake-damaged environments through field experiments that focus on cooperative mapping using both ground and aerial robots. Aerial robots offer several advantages over ground robots, including the ability to maneuver through complex three-dimensional (3D) environments and gather data from vantages inaccessible to ground robots. We consider an earthquake-damaged building with multiple floors that are generally accessible to ground robots. However, various locations in the environment are inaccessible to the ground robots due to debris or clutter. The goal is the generation of 3D maps that capture the layout of the environment and provide insight into the degree of damage inside the building. Read More …

Grants: NSF Rapid, MAST
Students: Yash Mulgaonkar, Kartik Mohta, Tolga Ozaslan
Human-Robot Coordinated Manipulation and Transportation

We will address the fundamental challenges of cooperative human-robot object manipulation and transportation, based on the precise formulation and rigorous solution of problems in perception, cognition, and control. The key concepts that this research seeks to promote are adaptability to human activity under minimal communication, and robustness to variability and uncertainty in the environment, achieved through a layered representation and deliberate processing of the available information. Moreover, this project aims to make maximum use of a minimal set of sensors to plan and control the actions of the robot, while ensuring safe and efficient cooperative transportation. For more information, visit websites of researchers below.

Grants: Human-robot Coordinated Manipulation and Transportation of Large Objects, TROOPER
Research Staff: Dinesh Thakur
Students: Monroe KennedyMike Watterson
Autonomous Robotic Rotorcraft for Exploration, Surveillance and Transportation (ARREST)

In this NSF sponsored Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) project, we are creating partnerships with small-business entrepreneurs in the area of micro aerial vehicles with applications to agriculture, security, law enforcement and first response. The partnership will enable the translation of fundamental, federally-sponsored, research results into products with societal benefits and commercial impact by implementing a loosely structured, commercially focused “play-like sandbox” environment among its partners. The Y-Prize competition at Penn is designed to explore novel applications and create new companies.

Students: Mickey Whitzer, Justin Thomas, Kartik Mohta