Soft Aerial Robotics for Infrastructure Manufacturing

Mirko Kovac

Abstract: Future infrastructure systems will evolve into complex ecosystems where autonomous aerial, aquatic and ground-based robots will coexist with people and cooperate in symbiosis. To create this human-robot ecosystem, robots will need to respond more flexibly, robustly and efficiently than they do today. They will need to be designed with the ability to move safely close to humans and in contact with infrastructure elements to perform sensing and intervention tasks. Their behaviours will need to be carefully orchestrated to integrate smoothly into the environment and in industry 4.0 workflows. Taking inspiration from natural systems, aerial robotic systems can integrate multi-functional morphology, new materials, energy-efficient locomotion principles and advanced perception abilities that will allow them to successfully operate and cooperate in these complex and dynamic environments. This talk will describe design principles and technologies for the development of biologically inspired flying robots with adaptive morphology that can perform monitoring and manufacturing tasks for infrastructure and building systems. Examples will include flying robots with perching capabilities and compliant landing systems, drones for aerial construction and repair, and origami-based drones for safe interactions with infrastructure elements.

Bio: Dr. Mirko Kovac is Director of the Aerial Robotics Laboratory, Reader in Aero-structures at Imperial College London and Royal Society Wolfson Fellow.  He is also heading the newly established Materials and Technology Centre of Robotics at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in Zürich. His research group focusses on the development of novel, biologically inspired flying robots for distributed sensing in air and water and on autonomous robotic construction for future infrastructure systems. Dr. Kovac’s particular specialisation is in robot design, soft robotics, hardware development and multi-modal robot mobility. 

Before his appointment in London, he was post-doctoral researcher at Harvard University and he obtained his PhD at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). He received his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) in 2005. During his studies he was research associate with the University of California in Berkeley USA, RIETER Automotive Switzerland, the WARTSILA Diesel Technology Division in Switzerland, and CISERV in Singapore.

He has presented his work in >70 international proceedings and journals, has won several best paper awards and has delivered >30 keynote lectures. He also regularly acts as advisor to government, investment funds and industry on robotics opportunities. 

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