MMAE Seminar by Dr. Matthew Spenko – The RoboticsLab@IIT: From Geckos to Amoebas and Everything in Between

Armour College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering will welcome Dr. Matthew Spenko, a professor in the Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering Department at Illinois Tech, to present a lecture, “The RoboticsLab@IIT: From Geckos to Amoebas and Everything In Between.”

The seminar will take place on Tuesday, February 15, 2022, from 12:45-1:45 p.m. in RE-104.

Contact Elena Magnus at for the seminar details.

For the past fifteen years, the RoboticsLab@IIT has focused on creating technologies to enable mobility in challenging environments. This talk highlights the lab’s contributions, from its work in gecko-inspired climbing and perching robots to the evaluation of navigation safety in self-driving cars, drone technology for tree science, and the development of amoeba-like soft robots. The latter of these, soft robots, will compose the majority of the talk. Soft robots can offer many advantages over traditional rigid robots including conformability to different object geometries, shape changing, safer physical interaction with humans, the ability to handle delicate objects, and grasping without the need for high-precision control algorithms. Despite these advantages, soft robots often lack high force capacity, scalability, responsive locomotion and object handling, and a self-contained untethered design, all of which have hindered their adoption. To address these issues, we have developed a series of robots comprised of several rigid robotic subunits that are flexibly connected to each other and contain a granule-filled interior that enables a jamming transition from soft to rigid. The jamming feature allows the robots to exert relatively large forces on objects in the environment. The modular design resolves any scalability issues, and using decentralized robotic subunits allows the robot to configure itself in a variety of shapes and conform to objects, all while locomoting. The result is a compliant, high-degree-of-freedom system with excellent morphability.


Matthew Spenko is a professor in the Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering Department at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Prof. Spenko earned the B.S. degree cum laude in Mechanical Engineering from Northwestern University in 1999 and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001 and 2005 respectively. He was an Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Scholar in the Mechanical Engineering Department’s Center for Design Research at Stanford University from 2005 to 2007. He has been a faculty member at the Illinois Institute of Technology since 2007, received tenure in 2013, and was promoted to full professor in 2019. His research is in the general area of robotics with specific attention to mobility in challenging environments. Prof. Spenko is a senior member of IEEE and an associate editor of Field Robotics. His work has been featured in popular media such as the New York Times, CNET, Engadget, and Discovery-News. Examples of his robots are on permanent display in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.