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Robotics and Biology LaboratorySoft Manipulation (SOMA)

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Soft Manipulation (SOMA)


The main obstacle to a wide-spread adoption of advanced manipulation systems in industry is their complexity, fragility, lack of strength, and difficulty of use. This project describes a path of disruptive innovation for the development of simple, compliant, yet strong, robust, and easy-to-program manipulation systems. The idea is: Soft Manipulation (SoMa). Our partners are:

  • University of Pisa, Research Center "E.Piaggio"
  • Italian Institute of Technology/University of Siena, Siena Robotics and Systems Lab
  • Ocado Technology
  • Disney Research Zurich
  • German Aerospace Center, Biomimetic Robotics and Machine Learning
  • Institute of Science and Technology Austria, Computer Graphics and Digital Fabrication

SoMa explores a new avenue of robotic manipulation with the environment, as opposed to manipulation of or in the environment. In our approach, the physical constraints imposed by objects in the environment and the manipulation itself are not regarded as obstacles, but rather as opportunities to guide functional hand pre-shaping, adaptive grasping, and affordance-guided manipulation of objects. The exploitation of these opportunities, which we refer to as environmental constraints (EC), enables robust grasping and manipulation in dynamic, open, and highly variable environments.

The key ingredient for the exploitation of EC is softness of hands, i.e. their embodied ability to comply and adapt to features of the environment. The traditional paradigm for robotic manipulation is in complete disarray in front of this shift of focus: state-of-the-art grasp planners are targeted towards rigid hands and objects, and attempt to find algorithmic solutions to inherently complex, often ill-posed problems. Further complicating matters, the requirement of planning for soft, uncertain interactions between hand and environment is entirely beyond the state of the art. However, this is how humans most often use their hands, and how we plan to change robotic manipulation. See the current iteration of the RBO Soft Hand.

The project is funded by European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement 645599. 

Contact person: Oliver Brock  (project coordinator), Can Erdogan, Előd Páll, Jessica Abele, Vincent Wall, Clemens Eppner, Steffen Puhlmann

For more information and awesome videos, please visit http://soma-project.eu/.





SOMA Media Kit

We provide a pre-packaged set of materials containing information and pictures about SOMA, especially for journalists and the media on our website (please scroll down to Media Kit). Please feel free to include the pictures in your story about SOMA and also link to our youtube channel.


Jessica Abele and Oliver Brock. First Analysis of Environment Design for Motion Planning with Contact. RSS 17 workshop "Revisiting Contact - Turning a Problem into a Solution" : 2017.

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Oliver Brock and Andrew Fagg and Roderic Grupen and Robert Platt and Michael Rosenstein and John Sweeney. A Framework for Learning and Control in Intelligent Humanoid Robots. International Journal of Humanoid Robots 2(3):301-336, 2005.

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Raphael Deimel and Clemens Eppner and José Álvarez-Ruiz and Marianne Maertens and Oliver Brock. Exploitation of Environmental Constraints in Human and Robotic Grasping. International Symposium on Robotics Research (ISRR), 2013.

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Raphael Deimel and Oliver Brock. A Novel Type of Compliant, Underactuated Robotic Hand for Dexterous Grasping. Robotics:Science and Systems (RSS), 2014.

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Raphael Deimel and Oliver Brock. Soft Hands for Reliable Grasping Strategies. Soft Robotics, Soft Hands, Grasping. Springer-Verlag, chap. Soft Hands for Reliable Grasping Strategies, 211–221, 2015.

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