Design and Control of Soft Aerial Manipulator

Type of position: 
Master thesis
Short abstract: 
The aim is to design a model-based controller for a soft robotic manipulator mounted to an omnidirectional drone platform. The soft robotic arm is made of silicone elastomer and capable of dynamic manipulation. The soft arm is modelled after an elephant's trunk and is actuated through pneumatic valves.

The aim of this project is to develop a combined platform with a soft robotic arm mounted to a flying omnidirectional aerial platform. An existing aerial robot and a lost-wax casted soft silicone elastomer arm are already available for this project. You will mount the arm to the drone and combine the existing dynamical models of the two systems to enable operation space control of the complete system. You will specify, setup and install a portable pneumatic pressure-controlled valve array for inflating all internal chambers of the arm and analyze its performance in a real-time control scenario. A soft gripper attachment that you develop for the arm will enable the platform to not only fly in 3D, but to also grasp objects. The state of the drone and attached arm are measured by an external motion capture system.

Work Packages: 
  • Experimental station setup with portable pneumatic pressure controller
  • Marker based motion capture system setup
  • Combined dynamics model of soft arm and flying drone
  • Real-time control of the robotic arm and the drone. First simulation and then real experimental tests
  • Addition of a casted soft lip-like gripper at tip for picking up objects or manipulating items

You are extremely curious, driven, highly independent, and you want to make a real difference with your research. You have prior expertise in:

  • Robot dynamics
  • Rapid prototyping of mechanical systems
  • Designing, simulating, and testing control algorithms on mechanical systems
  • Creating simulations of systems to rapidly test out new ideas
  • On-system testing to show results on real-world machines

An understanding of mechanical design and modern control theory is essential for the successful completion of this project. You will need to program on embedded systems and linux using C/C++ and Python. An active collaboration with researchers from the SRL and ASL and with other research labs will be required. You will have access to support from scientists, engineers, and doctoral students with background in materials science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, and physics.

Contact Details: 

Application via SiROP portal with the following documents:

  • Cover letter with statement of research objectives: (i) your planned research steps on this project, (ii) your relevant experience in this area, (iii) related work in literature, and (iv) a tentative timeline
  • Detailed CV: professional summary, education, research and work experience, key skills, publications (if any), awards and fellowships (if any), volunteering work (if any), and outside interests
  • 2 reference contacts
  • 1 exemplary publication or thesis work
  • Transcripts of all prior and ongoing degrees

Further information about the Soft Robotics Lab can be found on and about the Autonomous Systems Lab under

Supervisors : 
Dr. Marco Tognon
Prof. Dr. Katzschmann Robert