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  Self-assembling Robots for Living Metamaterials and Novel Fabrication Methods


   Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering

   Applications accepted all year round  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Background: 

LEGO-like millimetre-sized electronic parts that self-assemble and become a robot - such a scenario has been a dream for engineers. While robot fabrication takes a top-down approach to assemble parts one by one, this is achieved in assembly plants with a bottom-up approach where parts feeders and sorters use vibration to line up the parts. Looking at the biological world, for example, protein synthesis is achieved by the way its elements interact with each other. Can processes such as protein synthesis and tissue/organ development be applied to assembly pieces such as LEGO to realise self-assembling robots? This project aims to realise this and change the game in robotics manufacturing at the palm-top size and beyond.

Methodologies:

The project will first design sub-centimetre-sized self-assembling modules (‘blocks’), fabricate them using a high-resolution 3D printer, combined them with electronic components, and then control the modules’ self-assembly with an external magnetic field generator.

The design of the modules will be made using CAD and the modules will be joined together using magnetic or other physical forces. In tests, the modules would be floated on a flat surface, such as over water, and a magnetic field will be applied to induce collisions between modules and facilitate the coupling of the modules. The initially separated modules hence are allowed to increase in dimension to one, two, three dimensions, and show functionalities as a robot. 

Objectives: 

- Design of sub-centimetre-sized modules with electronic components.

- Fabrication of modules with a 3D printer and Microfabrication techniques.

- Testing and evaluation of self-assembly with the developed modules.

- Wireless powering of self-assembled robots.

The Research Group: The University of Sheffield Microbotics Lab (SML) is an interdisciplinary group with a focus on robotics technology, developing robots ranging in size from a few millimetres to the palm of a hand. The lab has a luxurious space, including a dedicated cleanroom and equipment for robot fabrication, and chemical and biological areas. The environment, with an over £120k equipment investment, provides excellent conditions for the proposed research. The members are also affiliated with Sheffield Robotics which is the fourth leading centre for robotics research in the UK, facilitating research collaborations. 

Learn about our group at https://sites.google.com/sheffield.ac.uk/microrobotics/

Eligibility Criteria:

- Areas of Research (you should fit into one of the following areas): Engineering (ME, EE, CS, Control, Design), Robotics, Physics, BioEngineering, Material Sciences.

- Students interested in developing hardware or conducting research on simulations.

- Students who enjoy learning new fabrication techniques and making things with their hands.

- Students who are able to interact with group members and work on projects.

The Research Group: 

The Sheffield Microbotics Lab (SML) at the University of Sheffield is an interdisciplinary group with a focus on robotics technology, developing robots ranging in size from a few millimetres to the palm of a hand. The lab has a luxurious space, including a dedicated cleanroom and equipment for robot fabrication, and chemical and biological areas. The University of Sheffield is among the world’s top 100 universities in the QS university ranking (2022). and first in the UK for engineering research investment (HESA report 2019), with £200M funded for the UK’s flagship manufacturing research centre, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). 

Environment:

The environment, with an over £120k equipment investment, provides excellent conditions for the proposed research. The space is shared with the Sheffield Biomedical Robotics Lab led by Dr Dana Damian, which enables active student interaction, such as co-running journal clubs and research progress meetings. The members are also affiliated with Sheffield Robotics which is the fourth leading centre for robotics research in the UK, facilitating research collaborations. 

Learn about our group at https://sites.google.com/sheffield.ac.uk/microrobotics/

Support and training: 

Students are supervised by the supervisor once a week through one-to-one meetings. They also present a monthly progress report in the lab and receive feedback from senior members. The student will be provided with a research budget, which can be used for attending an international conference and a domestic conference during the period of the programme.  The department, Automatic Control and Systems Engineering (ACSE), runs a cohort training and support for all students (e.g. PGR Symposium, seminars on scientific writing, ED&I, etc.), with structured events and support available throughout their studies. 

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Engineering (12)

Funding Notes

Scholarship available for a home student with good grades commencing in September 2024. Students are encouraged to contact the supervisor early to get support in preparing their applications. Opening positions are also available in the lab on an irregular basis each year, so interested students should contact me even if scholarships are not mentioned here.
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Self-funded students with grades above a certain level are also welcome to apply.

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