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Vision

A future with safe robots in every home, hospital, and spaceship.

Modern technologies such as wearable electronics and robotics provide enticing solutions to improving quality of life in a wide range of applications, from creating meaningful interpersonal experiences to increased workplace efficiency. Along this frontier, there are many challenges and corresponding opportunities that require a combination of scientific rigor and abstract creativity to solve. During my research career, I have contributed to several research fields primarily centering around materials science to robotics, working with my colleagues to find ways to combine new and old technologies and ideas to expand what is "humanly possible". This page summarizes my research activities; detailed information can be found in the included links, my Google Scholar, or LinkedIn.

For convenience, the short version of my career is as follows. I started with a combined degree with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and M.S. in agricultural engineering at Iowa State University, developing robots to improve data throughput in agronomy, with the goal of helping farmers improve yield and decrease environmental impact. I then completed a PhD with the Faboratory at Yale University, and served as a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow, tackling challenges in soft robotics, where I used flexible materials to enable new functionalities in robots for both Earth and space. The overarching theme of my dissertation was embedding functionality into "robotic skins" that can allow engineers to make use of the relatively unused surfaces of robots, while also serving as a multi-functional robotic prototyping platform for resource-constrained applications (think: spacecraft, dense urban areas, remote research facilities). Since joining Arieca in April 2022, I have been contributing to the commercialization of liquid metal embedded elastomers (LMEEs) to solve problems in thermal management, primarily for the automotive and semiconductor industries. Additionally, we have been looking into emerging applications of liquid metals in wearable electronics.

Thanks for visiting!

- Dr. Dyl

Dylan Shah's Profile Photo

Research


Soft Robots at Purdue and Yale University

Aug 2016 - April 2022

In Fall 2016, I joined the Faboratory at Purdue University with Prof. Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, to work on soft robotics. We apply compliant materials to robots, toward the goals of increased safety and dexterity. I then moved with the lab to Yale University, where I have been working to embed robotic functionalities in thin skins, and also designing shape changing robots. Representative projects include:

  1. Making stretchable "jamming skins" that change their stiffness and stretchability upon application of a vacuum (shown below in Figure 1). Very few soft robots can switch their stiffness to interact with the environment; those that can stiffen often require significant design constraints (such as a large volume of stiffness-changing material) which limit their applicability. By embedding strong jamming capabilities into thin sheets, I aimed to allow stiffness-changing capabilities to be added to the full range of soft robots. After I solved the major mechanical and manufacturing challenges, the final jamming skins are now scalable and can be readily integrated into other future soft robots.
    Jamming Skins Photo
    Figure 1: Jamming skins can be applied to the surface of deformable objects to provide support, or be reconfigured to create structures and tools on-demand. Upon application of a vacuum, the skins transition from flexible and stretchable sheets (no added shading) to stiff surfaces (cyan). Applications shown in the bottom row, from left to right: continuum manipulator with on-demand joints, reconfigurable table, sculptable reservoir for holding liquids.
  2. Embedding actuation and sensing into planar "robotic skins" to turn passive deformable bodies - including foam, clothing, and stuffed animals - into robots (shown below in Figure 2). These multi-functional robots could serve as lightweight tools for space missions, while also finding applications as wearable electronics for healthcare here on Earth. Additional coverage can be found on the web, including at Smithsonian.com and NationalGeographic.com.
    OmniSkins Photo
    Figure 2: Robotic Skins are planar sheets with integrated sensing and actuation. When applied to deformable bodies, a variety of motions and functions can be achieved, depending on the orientation of the skins.
  3. Sensors for impact-resistant, lightweight "tensegrity" robots (see the bottom of Figure 2 for an example). Most of my work in this area uses short rods (10-30 cm) connected to stretchable sensors and pneumatic actuators, but we're inspired by our talented collaborators at NASA Ames, including Massimo Vespignani, who has demonstrated a human-sized "Super Ball Bot" that can absorb heavy impacts and even survive drops of several meters. These tensegrities have potential as exploratory robots that can exploit steep terrain changes, rather than navigating around them.
  4. Making shape-changing robots with talented collaborators from Yale, the University of Vermont, and Tufts University. Example robots include our cable-driven shape-changing robot and our robot that changes shape to locomote in different environments. Shi En Kim concisely summarized the project on Massive Science.
  5. Currently, I'm focused on building stretchable sheets that can sense their shape in 3D. Stay tuned for more information!




Agricultural Robotics at Iowa State

May 2014 - Aug 2016

During my concurrent degrees at Iowa State University (B.S. Mechanical Engineering and M.S. Agricultural Engineering, with thesis) , I worked with Lie Tang on developing robotic systems and image-processing pipelines for data collection during the entire plant life-cycle. This data is useful for improving crop yield and studying the effects of various environmental parameters on plant health.

At first, I assisted with data collection and mechanical design, culminating in my masters' project where I led a small team (a few undergraduates and masters' students) to design and program robots to fulfill the goals of the broader projects. The most sophisticated one (prototype shown below in Figure 3), for the Enviratron project, was a mobile rover with a robot arm and a Kinect V2 3D camera for collision-free probing during use with researchers' specified instruments, such as a fluorometer. We additionally created a slender and compact field robot for 15% of the cost of the commercial alternative, allowing us to collect data on crops, such as corn and soybeans, that are grown in fields with narrow row spacing that conventional field robots could not navigate.

Photo of the Enviratron Rover at Iowa State University
Figure 3: My research at Iowa State University included designing and programming the Enviratron rover for automated phenotyping of plants in multiple growth chambers.

Publications

2021

2020



2019

2018

2017

Students

Assembling an ideal team is essential to success. This section briefly lists undergraduate (and high school) students who made primary contributions to my PhD projects at Yale.

  • Andrew Reardon. Yale class of 2021, electrical engineering. Recipient of a Fall 2019 NASA Connecticut Space Grant Undergraduate Fellowship.
  • Ellen Yang. Yale class of 2020, mechanical engineering.
  • Evelyn Huang. Yale class of 2020, computer science.
  • Liana Tilton. Started as a high-school researcher through Hopkins High School. Expected graduation: May 2023 from Washington University.

Contact

Email: Dylan (dot) Shah (dot) 50 @ gmail (dot) com
Google Scholar