Yale Postdoc Receives Branco Weiss Fellowship for Shape-Morphing Robot Research

Postdoctoral researcher Robert Baines is among the elite group of eight scientists awarded the Branco Weiss Fellowship this year. Following a rigorous selection process involving 424 candidates, Baines emerged as one of the chosen few to receive this honor, granted by ETH Zurich.

Baines’s research aims to replace the fixed metal legs of current autonomous quadrupeds with materials that modulate their shape and stiffness. He will fuse techniques from materials science, mechanism design, and machine learning to build quadruped robots with appendages that autonomously adjust shape to engage in multiple industrially oriented tasks. Investigations of how robot shape, control scheme, and physical environment are intertwined will inform the design of robotic systems that can be deployed at industrial sites to assume tasks inherently dangerous for humans.

The Branco Weiss Fellowship provides postdoctoral researchers the chance to carry out an independent research project in any discipline. This year, the recipients span an array of fields from biophysics to robotics, hailing from diverse global origins. With this fellowship, Baines can pursue research for up to five years at an institute of his choice anywhere in the world.

Baines' upcoming efforts involve using both experimental and simulation techniques to create robots that can discern when and how to adapt their shape, depending on the task. Feedback from potential end-users will shape the development and direction of these robots, ensuring they cater to real-world needs.

Baines recently received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and materials science and was a member of Prof. Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio’s research lab, The Faboratory.