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News Release

Endless Creativity: Designing Robots at UC San Diego

San Diego, CA, June 13, 2018 -- “What I love is that no two designs are the same,” said UC San Diego mechanical engineering professor Nick Gravish. “It’s fun to work with the students because their creativity is endless.”

The student he’s talking about are UC San Diego masters and PhD students who just finished his MAE 207: Bioinspired mobile robotics. It’s not just the undergraduates, after all, who have year-end project and class demos at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Graduate students are furiously debugging and demo-ing their creations at the end of every quarter as well.  

Nick Gravish’s bioinspired robotics class is just one example. He covered the fundamentals of flight, swimming, snake motions and walking in the first half of the class, then set the students loose to design and build their own bioispired mobile robots. No wheels allowed.

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WEDS is the name of one of these robots that scrambled across a black lab table during the demo session closing out the Spring 2018 class. (View a few more photos from the class on the Jacobs School Flickr feed)

All the teams designed and built robots using the same motors. Most of the rest of the parts were designed and laser cut by the students from wood and acrylic.

WEDS is the name of one of these robots that scrambled across a black lab table during the demo session closing out the Spring 2018 class. The team named their robot WEDS for two reasons. First, they usually met to work on their robot on Wednesdays. Second, WEDS, represents the first initial of the first name of the four team members: Wei Li, Emily Lathrop, Dawoon Kim, and Spark (Zhaoliang Zhang).

WEDS has just two motors, one controlling the legs on right side and one controlling the legs on the left. Two motors, instead of four, makes for a lighter robot. But it also means the students had to design the robot so the front and back legs on each side worked together seamlessly in order to share the one motor. Not an easy feat, especially when the legs and gears are laser cut from wood.

Gravish described the way the students linked the front and back legs on each side to a single motor as “beautiful”.

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UC San Diego mechancial engineernig PhD student Emily Lathrop with her team's robot WEDS.

In terms of the general design, the WEDS team took inspiration a wind-powered STRANDBEEST walking robot created by artist and roboticist Theo Jansen. But since STRANDBEEST robots don’t have motors, the students had to figure out on their own how to incorporate the motors into the robot design.

A spring popped off one of the wooden legs of WEDS soon after the students got it walking again, after a couple of passes down the runway. That didn’t faze the students or Gravish, who, like so many at the Jacobs School understands how essential hands-on learning is for engineers.

“You learn so much by building a leg that’s too heavy and has the wrong layout of bearings,” he said.

In terms of his own research, Gravis said he’s fascinated by legged locomotion. And that made the students creations all the more interesting.

“It’s fun to see legged locomotion solutions we wouldn’t necessarily come up in our lab,” he said. “These robots far exceeded what I was expecting in five weeks.”

Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering