LCSR Seminar: Chen Li “Terradynamics of animal and robot locomotion in complex 3-D terrain”

March 27, 2019 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Hackerman B-17


Aero- and hydrodynamics have helped us understand how animals fly and swim and develop aerial and aquatic vehicles and robots that move through air and water rapidly, agilely, and efficiently. By contrast, we know surprisingly little about how terrestrial animals move so well in natural terrain, and even the best robots still struggle in complex terrain such as earthquake rubble, cluttered buildings, forest floor, and Martian rocks, an ability required for important applications like search and rescue, structural examination, environmental monitoring, and planetary exploration.

By integrating biology, engineering, and physics studies and developing new experimental tools and theoretical models, our lab is creating the new field of terradynamics to describe complex locomotor-terrain interaction (analogous to fluid-structure interaction), and using terradynamics to better understand animal locomotion and advance robot locomotion in complex terrain.

In this talk, I will give an overview of research in my lab at Hopkins over the last three years to create terradynamics for locomotion in complex 3-D terrain. Particularly, I will highlight: (1) How we create “locomotion energy landscapes” to understand how insects and legged robots transition between different forms of movement to traverse highly cluttered terrain. (2) How limbless snakes traverse large steps and inspire a snake robot that outperforms previous ones. I will also briefly survey other recent and ongoing projects in the lab.



Chen Li is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, and affiliated with JHU’s Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics (LCSR). Dr. Li received his B.S. degree from Peking University in 2005 and Ph.D. degree from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2011, both in physics. From 2012 to 2015, he performed postdoctoral research in integrative biology and robotics at University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Li is a recipient of a Miller Research Fellowship from University of California, Berkeley in 2012, a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface in 2015, an Army Research Office Young Investigator Award in 2017, and a Beckman Young Investigator Award in 2018. He is selected as an alumnus of Kavli Frontiers of Science, National Academy of Sciences in 2019. His research achievements have been recognized by publication in prestigious journals including Science and PNAS, as well as selection for one Best Paper (Advanced Robotics 2017), two Highlight Papers (IROS 2016, Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 2015), and two Best Student Papers (Robotics: Science & Systems 2012, Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology 2009).

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Recorded Spring 2019 Seminars