Gait control in a soft robot by sensing interactions with the environment using self-deformation

Takuya Umedachi, Takeshi Kano, Akio Ishiguro, Barry A. Trimmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


All animals usemechanosensors to help themmove in complex and changing environments. With few exceptions, these sensors are embedded in soft tissues that deform in normal use such that sensory feedback results from the interaction of an animal with its environment. Useful information about the environment is expected to be embedded in the mechanical responses of the tissues during movements. To explore how such sensory information can be used to control movements, we have developed a soft-bodied crawling robot inspired by a highly tractable animal model, the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta. This robot uses deformations of its body to detect changes in friction force on a substrate. This information is used to provide local sensory feedback for coupled oscillators that control the robot’s locomotion. The validity of the control strategy is demonstrated with both simulation and a highly deformable three-dimensionally printed soft robot. The results show that very simple oscillators are able to generate propagating waves and crawling/inching locomotion through the interplay of deformation in different body parts in a fully decentralized manner. Additionally, we confirmed numerically and experimentally that the gait pattern can switch depending on the surface contact points. These results are expected to help in the design of adaptable, robust locomotion control systems for soft robots and also suggest testable hypotheses about how soft animals use sensory feedback.

Original languageEnglish
Article number160766
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Dec


  • Behavioural diversity
  • Biologically inspired robot
  • Decentralized control
  • Mechanosensing
  • Soft-bodied robot


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