The Humans of the Wyss series features members of the Wyss community discussing how they think about their work, the influences that help shape them as scientists, and their collaborations at the Wyss Institute and beyond.
In this installment, we talk to Daniel Vogt, M.S., a research engineer at the Wyss Institute. Daniel talks about his work in the field of soft robotics and how he envisions his research impacting the world.
What drives you?
I have always been passionate about tackling difficult challenges. Being able to do so at the Wyss Institute has been a fantastic opportunity and I have had the chance to collaborate with knowledgeable people from a variety of fields.
You’re working on a few different applications for soft robotics, tell us more.
In the field of soft robotics, researchers use compliant materials instead of rigid bodies. This opens the door to a wide variety of new possibilities for applications in robotics, such as the ability to grasp soft or deformable objects. This concept was applied recently during a research expedition in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). I worked with a team to install soft manipulators on a deep sea robot that could grasp delicate deep sea organisms such as corals or sea stars without damaging them.
Another area of application is wearable robotics. I’m working to develop compliant materials that fit the human body. Some of the projects I am working on are focused on motion tracking using soft sensors. These sensors are placed on various joints (i.e. knuckles, elbow, knee, etc…) and their measurements inform us about the joint angles. These sensors are so soft that they are capable of following the stretchability of the skin without impeding the user’s motion.
Share with us some of the challenges you’re facing.
The biggest challenges often involve developing engineering devices that can fit the complexity of the human body. In traditional engineering, one can always rely on using screws, nuts and bolts. But when integrating devices with the human body, one needs to be creative to develop a wearable device that is both functional and comfortable to wear.
So, what do you see as the next steps for soft robotics?
I could see soft robotics devices becoming more commonly used in everyday life, especially in terms of the ways in which humans interact with electronic devices. Keyboards, mice, and joysticks have been used for decades without changing significantly. I envision that the future of human-machine interface will be gesture-based, with humans using sensors that are seamlessly integrated with the body.