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Soft Material Robotic Systems (SPP 2100)
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
In 2017, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme "Soft Material Robotic Systems" (SPP 2100). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the second three-year funding period.

The emergence of soft material robotic systems has been fueled by a paradigm shift in the design of robotic systems. In contrast to extrinsically soft robots, in which compliance is achieved through mechanism design and control, soft material robots consist predominantly of intrinsically compliant materials, i.e. materials whose Young's modulus is in the order of 104-109 Pa. These materials also tend to be highly stretchable, being able to withstand strains of several hundred percent. The intrinsic compliance allows soft material robots to undergo substantial deformations and safely conform to and interact with their environment. Despite its tremendous potential, the paradigm shift from stiff to soft materials presents significant challenges from design and fabrication to modelling and controlling robotic systems. One of the potential advantages of soft robots is the inherent morphological computation that decreases control complexity and leads to shared tasks of the hard- and software blurring the strict distinction between both.

The Priority Programme seeks to reveal the advantage of the shift from stiff to soft robot designs in an interdisciplinary context. Research in the Priority Programme should help to harness the power of the soft paradigm and make it accessible, leading to the development of more flexible and adaptable robotic systems. Within the scope of the second funding period, the characteristics and principles found in soft material robotic systems should be explored, highlighting the intrinsic compliance of the materials and the additional integrated functionalities such as actuation, sensing and morphing capabilities through the following research areas:
o Material engineering: The development of new functional soft materials with corresponding fabrication processes and application-oriented material design and characterisation.
o Design and fabrication: The design and fabrication of soft material robotic systems involves considerations regarding, e.g. the choice of materials and the appropriate placement of actuators and sensors.
o Soft actuators and sensors: Soft material robotic systems feature soft and stretchable actuators and sensors and a high level of functional integration to the extent where the boundaries between individual components become blurred.
o Modelling and simulation: Systematic design, model-based control, and path planning schemes require appropriate descriptions of a soft robot's behaviour and its interaction with the environment.
o Morphological computation and control: Morphological computation offers the opportunity to outsource computational tasks to a soft robot's morphology affecting how a soft robot is controlled.

The strong collaborations built in the first funding period and the gained knowledge explored from different perspectives contributed to a better understanding of soft material robotic systems and their challenges. Based on the achievements of the first funding period, the second funding period will specify the benefits of soft material systems, showing the advantages in contrast to traditional systems. The second funding period is expected to lead to closer integration of distinct research areas focusing on:
How can the potential of soft material robotic systems be effectively leveraged?
The proposals are expected to include initial ideas on how to provide evidence about their impact within the Priority Programme using the following criteria that define the scientific frame for the second funding period:
o Collaboration: Projects are encouraged to collaborate with other participants of the Priority Programme to exchange their findings and methods.
o Contribution: Projects are required to address existing knowledge gaps to make soft robots accessible for real applications.
o Applications: Possible applications should show the advantages of soft material robotic systems in comparison to traditional systems.

The second funding period aims for contributions and applications in which the knowledge generated from the first funding period can define systems and methods with a notable impact on soft robotics and beyond. The benefit of soft robotic systems will be defined through collaborative projects, where the integration of different areas can address a specific application or method. However, non-collaborative projects or new projects are equally welcome and will be given the same priority. Proposals are expected to provide a clear overview of how the proposed systems address one or more of the opportunities arising from the use of soft materials concerning:
o active and passive adaptability
o whole-body deformation and dexterity
o complexity reduction by exploiting morphological computation
o functional integration/fusion of soft robotic systems approaches
o control improvement in actuation/sensor integration
o human-robot interaction

The programme is intended to be highly interdisciplinary, with close collaborations to enhance the possibilities for technology transfer and the mutual knowledge exchange. The projects are emphasized to build on each others' progress, leading to an accelerated and efficient development process of soft material robotic systems. Potential participants are encouraged to establish collaborations with other research groups, addressing how the collaboration is beneficial for the aim of the Priority Programme. Successful projects should contribute to soft material robotics by demonstrating how the potential of soft materials can be effectively employed.

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Annika Raatz
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover
Produktionstechnisches Zentrum Hannover
Institut für Montagetechnik (match)
An der Universität 2
30823 Garbsen
phone +49 511 762 18242

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:
Programme contact:
Dr. Lina Wedrich, phone +49 228 885-2480, lina.wedrich@dfg.de

Administrative contact:
Nils Hoth, phone +49 228 885-3129, nils.hoth@dfg.de
Further information: