In this project, myself and Nantachai Sornkarn together with crafts experts Naomi Mcintosh and Les Bicknell try to develop new approaches we can take to understand how seemingly hard structures can sometimes exhibit soft or fluidic behaviors. We believe that the secrets lie in the way we interpret deformation and formation relative to some norm.
To give an example, rats are rodents with a rigid skeleton. This helps them to keep some identity to the rat shape of the body and to keep the internal organs safely placed. When they squeeze through a narrow gap, parts of this rigid skeleton passively deform and push internal organs to re-pack without damaging each other. Maybe the rat actively regulates the antagonistic muscles to allow deformation. However, once the gap is negotiated, the skeleton reforms its original shape without the rat having to consciously place each piece of bone in its original shape. This structural memory of such complex structures with so many degrees of freedom is a great biological inspiration to design future soft robots. However, we the robotics engineers typically take a linear approach to design this kind of novel robots.
What will happen if we sit down with two crafts experts to turn the design approach upside down? What can such a collaboration do to some kind of convergence in our parallel practices? Will it converge? or should it converge to a norm at all? Is it possible that it will contribute to a new kind of shared vocabulary and ways to view formation and deformation of structures in nature? Well, that is what we will find out after three months of this fun work together. Await our twitter updates in #DeReForm.