Soft Robotics Toolkit
Project Soft Robotics Toolkit is an initiative to provide hands-on skills and practical knowledge about robotics for students, parents, and educators. The project uses physical kits, comprising raw materials and instructions, for the students to practice fabrication, electronics, and programming skills while making their own soft robots and experiencing design thinking. The students can also join the online platform to access digital tools to continue innovation on their own as well as become a part of a community interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
Conor Walsh, Gordon McKay Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, John A. Paulson Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Founder, Harvard Biodesign Lab
Focusing on active engagement as opposed to passive knowledge–sharing, the Soft Robotics Toolkits are designed to influence students’ engineering identity, interest, and confidence, and equip students to apply the principles that they learn through soft robotics in other situations as well.
The education system in India relies heavily on traditional ways of teaching. But evidence suggests that active, exploratory learning rather than traditional knowledge–sharing has a more constructive impact on academic performance, creating more motivation and ongoing interest in the subject as it puts the student in direct contact with the learning materials. Hence, the Soft Robotic Toolkit uses active, hands-on pedagogy to provide cutting edge, high-quality STEM learning. As a result, students engage in meaningful activities in the process of learning various scientific principles, concepts about robotics, and engineering design.
In promoting the soft robotics kits in different sections of society in India, the project hopes to inspire interest in the STEM fields, as well as encourage creativity in education. The project has refined its prototype iteratively based on student and educator feedback from pilot tests across India.
Beyond introducing the future generation of designers and engineers to a cutting-edge technology, which has a bright future for commercialization and therefore career opportunities, the toolkit brings a more real-world experience to designing robots. Failure and problem-solving were designed into our curriculum and the participants of the first virtual pilot study, conducted in early 2021, found it both challenging and rewarding. The project team discovered that failure was not as supported or accepted for their target group, but this is a reality when doing research or working in the industry.
Media and Resources
The team has hosted speaking events and workshops both in India and the US. The Toolkit workshops help to pilot test the quality of the instructional material and generate student and educator feedback.
In the News
The Soft Robotics Toolkit has received much coverage on their work, which has been highlighted in numerous news outlets and scientific journals worldwide.
A lot of robotics education kits today do a great job focussing on programming, but there hasn’t been as much exploration in terms of creating kits that will help people in making and manufacturing and help them understand different types of materials, so that’s where we focussed on. The kit that we developed allows students to use different types of soft materials and create from scratch their own soft robot system, and in addition being able to add on some electronic components, and also do a little bit of programming as well. So it allows them to get the full picture of what it’s like to create a soft robot.In addition to that, we have also really had a focus on making these accessible to as many people as possible. And so we’ve tried to focus on keeping these kits simple, and making them as low-cost and affordable as possible through the materials and designs that we’ve used.