Robotics Research for Biomechanical Applications

Sharon Zheng, SEAS ’24, Rockville, Maryland

This summer I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant in ModLab, a subgroup in GRASP. The lab focuses on modular robotics, which are robots that consist of numerous simple modules that can reconfigure given a specific task, which, perhaps for a lack of a better comparison, are similar to transformers. I knew that I wanted to continue to work in this lab over the summer to gain experience, however, my financial situation would not have allowed me to stay in Philly this summer. Fortunately, this Summer Funding Grant allowed me to continue to work in the lab without having to worry about money, and thus I was able to completely focus on my research and dive further into the realm of robotics.

I am interested in biped robots and robotic exoskeletons and I believe this new research project introduced me to the forces necessary for an individual to perform activities of daily living that could potentially be later applied for the exoskeletons. Thus, I was very excited to start a new research project, especially since it was related to biomechanics as I would be able to apply the accumulated knowledge obtained from numerous lectures. I was given the task to learn more about OpenSim, a musculoskeletal modeling and simulation software developed by Stanford, and use it to run simulations of individuals (with healthy muscles and atrophied muscles in the lower body) standing up from a squatting or sitting position. The goal is to later design a soft vine robot that could potentially aid in this mundane, everyday task, for individuals who have difficulty doing so due to old age, a disease, a disorder, and/or just anyone who needs the extra help.

My responsibilities this summer included learning about the features and tools the software offers, which include inverse dynamics and inverse kinematics, both of which will be crucial when analyzing experimental data, and presenting this to the graduate student I am working under to discuss how to utilize the newfound information towards our goal. In addition, at the end, I gave a presentation to the entire, if not majority, of the lab about my thinking process and how I approached the issue.

Although the majority of my work was done remotely, I did have the option to work at PERCH, which is a shared robotics lab space, in Pennovation. I was pleasantly surprised when I first walked into the lab – I did get lost, but with the help of a few friendly individuals, I found my intended destination – as it was everything I imagined a robotics lab to be. In a few corners, there were prototypes of robots, ranging from an origami inspired robot to a jumping one. And on the desks and the shelves, there were plenty of electronic pieces that were just waiting to be used. This further solidified my desire to work with robots.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services