The interdisciplinary discipline of mechatronics can be considered as a combination of mechanics and electronics and it involves the synergistic integration of mechanical, electrical, control, and computer systems to create functional products. It has become the enabling technology responsible for many industrial innovations in all economic sectors including: automotive, alternative energy, aerospace, electronics, defense, etc. Within the research community, the field of mechatronics generally covers topics such as autonomous motion control, automated guided vehicles, robotics, Micro-Electro-Mechanical-Systems (MEMS), intelligent systems, and smart materials. Current research topics include:

Autonomous Motion Control:

Key issues for the motion of autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles and robots are fast planning of efficient trajectories and planning & control in difficult environments. This research uses the new planning algorithm, Sampling Based Model Predictive Optimization, to efficiently develop dynamically feasible trajectories that optimize time, energy, or distance. It also develops control strategies for ground vehicles on difficult terrains, using a combination of expert rules, judicious experimentation, and physics-based analysis.

Current Research Projects:

  • Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking for Space Debris Mitigation (Collins, FAA)
  • Modeling and Motion Planning for Autonomous Skid-Steered Vehicles (Collins, Army TATRC)
  • Momentum Based Motion Planning for Manipulators with Heavy Loads (Collins, NSF)
  • PerMMA (Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance) Control (Collins, NSF through Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh)
  • Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance (Collins, Clark, Oates; ARL)
  • Terrain-Dependent Driver Assistance for Electric Powered Wheelchairs (Collins, USAMRAA)


Multimodal Robotics:

Design, analysis and manufacturing of novel and dynamic robotic systems. In order to imbue robotic systems with the agility and functionality akin to their biological inspirations, it is critical to understand the interplay between the structures' underlying passive dynamics and the control systems that enervate them. Research in this lab involves working closely with biologists to understand the underlying functional principles behind successful animal locomotion. These principles are then encoded in simplified dynamic models. The analysis of these models leads to insight regarding the roles of passive and active elements in creating self-stabilizing dynamic systems. Innovative manufacturing processes, such Shape Deposition Manufacturing (SDM) and other rapid prototyping techniques are then applied to build robots capable of moving in a dynamic and agile manner over difficult terrain. To analyze and build these robots, the lab is equipped with dynamic motion analysis equipment as well as a suite of state-of-the-art manufacturing tools. These tools are being used to develop dynamic multi-modal dynamic capable of rapid running, climbing and flying.

Current Research Projects:

  • Adaptive Robotic Multi-Modal Systems (ARM2S) (Clark, et. al. AFRL/RW)
  • Robotics Collaborative Alliance (Collins, Clark, Oates; ARL)
  • The Dynamics of Running on Inclines (Clark, NSF)


Solid Mechanics of Functional Materials:

Functional materials are required for a variety of applications in aerospace, automotive, energy, and biomedical applications. Our group is focused on building a fundamental understanding of the constitutive behavior of functional materials that couple mechanics, light, electric fields, magnetic fields, chemistry, and heat using a range of modeling techniques and experimental methods. This research facilitates technology transfer and development of intelligent material systems and structures.

Current Research Projects:

  • CAREER: Materials Driven by Light: Nonlinear Photomechanics of Liquid Crystal Elastomers (Oates, NSF)
  • Field-Coupled Mechanics and Nonlinear Control of Photo-responsive Adaptive Structures (Oates, DARPA)
  • High Temperature Sapphire Based Pressure Tranducers (Oates, FAA)
  • Next Generation Adaptive Structures for Legged Robotics (Clark and Oates, ARL-RCTA)
  • Development and Implementation of High-Bandwidth Pulsed Microactuators for Sub- and Supersonic Applications (Alvi and Oates, AFOSR)
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