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Wyss Institute


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The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University uses Nature's design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world. Wyss researchers are developing innovative new engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing that are translated into commercial products and therapies through collaborations with clinical investigators, corporate alliances, and formation of new start–ups. The Wyss Institute creates transformative technological breakthroughs by engaging in high risk research, and crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers, working as an alliance that includes Harvard's Schools of Medicine, Engineering, Arts & Sciences and Design, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Boston University, Tufts University, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, University of Zurich and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.



by   -   June 30, 2019
Changes to the Robobee — including an additional pair of wings and improvements to the actuators and transmission ratio — made the vehicle more efficient and allowed the addition of solar cells and an electronics panel. This Robobee is the first to fly without a power cord and is the lightest, untethered vehicle to achieve sustained flight. Credit: Harvard Microrobotics Lab/Harvard SEAS

By Leah Burrows

In the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, on a late afternoon in August, decades of research culminated in a moment of stress as the tiny, groundbreaking Robobee made its first solo flight.

Graduate student Elizabeth Farrell Helbling, Ph.D.’19, and postdoctoral fellow Noah T. Jafferis, Ph.D. from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences caught the moment on camera.

by   -   June 22, 2019
Root is controlled using an iPad app that has three different levels of coding, allowing students as young as four years old to learn the fundamentals of programming. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

iRobot Corp. announced its acquisition of Root Robotics, Inc., whose educational Root coding robot got its start as a summer research project at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering in 2011 and subsequently developed into a robust learning tool that is being used in over 500 schools to teach children between the ages of four and twelve how to code in an engaging, intuitive way. iRobot plans to incorporate the Root robot into its growing portfolio of educational robot products, and continue the work of scaling up production and expanding Root’s programming content that began when Root Robotics was founded by former Wyss Institute members in 2017.

by   -   April 28, 2019

By Benjamin Boettner
Along developed riverbanks, physical barriers can help contain flooding and combat erosion. In arid regions, check dams can help retain soil after rainfall and restore damaged landscapes. In construction projects, metal plates can provide support for excavations, retaining walls on slopes, or permanent foundations. All of these applications can be addressed with the use of sheet piles, elements folded from flat material and driven vertically into the ground to form walls and stabilize soil.

by   -   April 5, 2019

The toggle gripper holding a screwdriver. Credit: Daniel Preston / Harvard University
By Caitlin McDermott-Murphy, Harvard University Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

A soft robot, attached to a balloon and submerged in a transparent column of water, dives and surfaces, then dives and surfaces again, like a fish chasing flies. Soft robots have performed this kind of trick before. But unlike most soft robots, this one is made and operated with no hard or electronic parts. Inside, a soft, rubber computer tells the balloon when to ascend or descend. For the first time, this robot relies exclusively on soft digital logic.

by   -   January 7, 2019

This biocompatible sensor is made from a non-toxic, highly conductive liquid solution that could be used in diagnostics, therapeutics, human-computer interfaces, and virtual reality. Credit: Harvard SEAS

By Leah Burrows
Children born prematurely often develop neuromotor and cognitive developmental disabilities. The best way to reduce the impacts of those disabilities is to catch them early through a series of cognitive and motor tests. But accurately measuring and recording the motor functions of small children is tricky. As any parent will tell you, toddlers tend to dislike wearing bulky devices on their hands and have a predilection for ingesting things they shouldn’t.

by   -   December 21, 2018

By Lindsay Brownell

Jet engines can have up to 25,000 individual parts, making regular maintenance a tedious task that can take over a month per engine. Many components are located deep inside the engine and cannot be inspected without taking the machine apart, adding time and costs to maintenance. This problem is not only confined to jet engines, either; many complicated, expensive machines like construction equipment, generators, and scientific instruments require large investments of time and money to inspect and maintain.

by   -   September 18, 2018

The multi-joint soft exosuit consists of textile apparel components worn at the waist, thighs and calves that guide mechanical forces from an optimized mobile actuation system attached to a rucksack via cables to the ankle and hip joints. In addition, a new tuning method helps personalize the exosuit’s effects to wearers’ specific gaits. Credit: Harvard Biodesign Lab

By Benjamin Boettner

In the future, smart textile-based soft robotic exosuits could be worn by soldiers, fire fighters and rescue workers to help them traverse difficult terrain and arrive fresh at their destinations so that they can perform their respective tasks more effectively. They could also become a powerful means to enhance mobility and quality of living for people suffering from neurodegenerative disorders and for the elderly.

by   -   September 10, 2018

Credit: Wyss Institute Harvard

By Benjamin Boettner

Manipulating delicate tissues such as blood vessels during difficult surgeries, or gripping fragile organisms in the deep sea presents a challenge to surgeons and researchers alike. Roboticists have made inroads into this problem by developing soft actuators on the microscale that are made of elastic materials and, through the expansion or contraction of embedded active components, can change their shapes to gently handle objects without damaging them. However, the specific designs and materials used for their fabrication so far still limit their range of motion and the strength they can exert at scales on which surgeons and researchers would like to use them.

by   -   August 9, 2018

A new fabrication process enables the creation of soft robots at the millimeter scale with features on the micrometer scale as shown here with the example of a small soft robotic peacock spider with moving body parts and colored eyes and abdomens. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

By Benjamin Boettner

Roboticists are envisioning a future in which soft, animal-inspired robots can be safely deployed in difficult-to-access environments, such as inside the human body or in spaces that are too dangerous for humans to work, in which rigid robots cannot currently be used. Centimeter-sized soft robots have been created, but thus far it has not been possible to fabricate multifunctional flexible robots that can move and operate at smaller size scales.

by   -   August 9, 2018

his fully 3D-printed version of the grippers includes “fingernails” on the ends of the fingers to help pick up organisms that are sitting on hard surfaces, as well as mesh extensions between the fingers to keep samples secure. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

By Lindsay Brownell

The deep ocean – dark, cold, under high pressure, and airless – is notoriously inhospitable to humans, yet it teems with organisms that manage to thrive in its harsh environment. Studying those creatures requires specialized equipment mounted on remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that can withstand those conditions in order to collect samples. This equipment, designed primarily for the underwater oil and mining industries, is clunky, expensive, and difficult to maneuver with the kind of control needed for interacting with delicate sea life. Picking a delicate sea slug off the ocean floor with these tools is akin to trying to pluck a grape using pruning shears.

by   -   July 25, 2018
When HAMR needs to sink, its footpads emit a high voltage to break the water surface tension. This process is called electrowetting, which is the reduction of the contact angle between a material and the water surface under an applied voltage. This change of contact angle makes it easier for objects to break the water surface. (Credit: Yufeng Chen, Neel Doshi, and Benjamin Goldberg/Harvard University)

By Leah Burrows

In nature, cockroaches can survive underwater for up to 30 minutes. Now, a robotic cockroach can do even better. Harvard’s Ambulatory Microrobot, known as HAMR, can walk on land, swim on the surface of water, and walk underwater for as long as necessary, opening up new environments for this little bot to explore.

by   -   July 24, 2018

By Lindsay Brownell

The open ocean is the largest and least explored environment on Earth, estimated to hold up to a million species that have yet to be described. However, many of those organisms are soft-bodied – like jellyfish, squid, and octopuses – and are difficult to capture for study with existing underwater tools, which all too frequently damage or destroy them. Now, a new device developed by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study safely traps delicate sea creatures inside a folding polyhedral enclosure and lets them go without harm using a novel, origami-inspired design. The research is reported in Science Robotics.

by   -   May 9, 2018

As the vacuum is applied to the flexible material, it becomes stiff and able to support the weight of the drone. Credit: Yashraj Narang

By Leah Burrows

Even octopuses understand the importance of elbows. When these squishy, loose-limbed cephalopods need to make a precise movement — such as guiding food into their mouth — the muscles in their tentacles contract to create a temporary revolute joint. These joints limit the wobbliness of the arm, enabling more controlled movements.

A Bayesian optimization method that integrates the metabolic costs in wearers of this hip-assisting exosuit enabled the individualized fine-tuning of assistive forces. Credit: Ye Ding/Harvard University
By Leah Burrows

When it comes to soft, assistive devices — like the exosuit being designed by the Harvard Biodesign Lab — the wearer and the robot need to be in sync. But every human moves a bit differently and tailoring the robot’s parameters for an individual user is a time-consuming and inefficient process.

Now, researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied and Sciences (SEAS) have developed an efficient machine learning algorithm that can quickly tailor personalized control strategies for soft, wearable exosuits.

by   -   March 2, 2018

This soft robotic gripper is the result of a platform technology developed by Harvard researchers to create soft robots with embedded sensors that can sense inputs as diverse as movement, pressure, touch, and temperature. Credit: Ryan L. Truby/Harvard University

By Leah Burrows

Researchers at Harvard University have built soft robots inspired by nature that can crawl, swim, grasp delicate objects and even assist a beating heart, but none of these devices has been able to sense and respond to the world around them.