Banerjee receives NSF CAREER award for work emulating a biological spine in robots

1/25/2020 Joseph Park, Illinois ECE

Illinois ECE Assistant Professor Arijit Banerjee has won an NSF CAREER award for his work on emulating a biological spine. His work tackles a critical need to re-imagine robots not only as an embodiment of mechanical linkages and artificial intelligence but also as a complex network of electromechanical actuators by emulating a biological spine.

Written by Joseph Park, Illinois ECE

Arijit Banerjee
Arijit Banerjee
Illinois ECE Assistant Professor Arijit Banerjee recently won the NSF CAREER award for his work with bio-inspired design methods for distributed electromechanical actuators to emulate a biological spine. This prestigious award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Banerjee's award-winning work focuses on creating a class of modular and distributed electromechanical actuators and developing a power network that will enable robots to be agile, efficient, and capable of reproducing biological motions that today are impossible. 

"Our research envisions to advance power networks and actuators in robots to converge with the exploding capability of artificial intelligence and autonomous control, saving human lives and enhancing national security," said Banerjee. "The integrated education and outreach plan aims to ignite curiosity in students about electromechanics and power electronics--foundations of our modern civilization--by using robotics as the catalyst."

Cheetah's spine in action
Cheetah's spine in action
Although state-of-the-art bio-inspired robots have achieved exquisite maneuvers, such systems have yet to closely replicate the grace, fluidity, and agility of their biological counterparts. Banjeree's work tackles a critical need to re-imagine these robots as a complex network of electromechanical actuators by emulating a biological spine.

A distributed actuator mimicking the spine mechanism will improve mobility, efficiency, and stability of robots in search, rescue, and recovery making them the first line of defense for disaster relief as well as surveillance reconnaissance, inspection, and exploration applications.

By constructing a hardware prototype of a synthetic spine, the project plans to construct demonstration kits using research results that connect math and theory to the craft of real-world systems such as robots and automated systems.

These demo kits will attract and inspire K-12 students, underrepresented groups, and a broader audience about electrical power and energy processing. The demo kits blueprint will also be shared with K-12 educators to help them teach their STEM clubs. Banerjee's proposed framework is the basis to build a multi-disciplinary understanding of distributed actuators and their power network in robots and automated systems and to advance the robotics workforce through educational pathways.

"I am thankful to my students—Bonhyun and Sunyu—for their hard work. I am grateful to my colleagues at Illinois and beyond, including George Gross, Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia, Pete Sauer, Phil Krein, Kiruba Haran, Subhonmesh Bose, Joyce Mast, Lynford Goddard, Naresh Shanbhag, Al Avestruz, Luisa Rosu, Seth Hutchinson, Leanne Cunningham, Sangbae Kim, Janice Progen, Chris Migotsky, and Scott Corum for their extraordinary help and support."

Check out Banjeree's NSF Award Abstract here.

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This story was published January 25, 2020.