The Sentimental Soft Robotics

Project Leaders: Caroline Yan Zheng

Number of participants: 16

Duration: 5


Soft robotics, bio-inspired robotics and programmable materials offer a complete new page for designing interactivity. While robotic engineering focus on their potential on functionality, this AcrossRCA project explores especially the emotive properties of soft and bio-inspired robotics, namely their tactile, sensual qualities as a material as well as their liveliness, animal like, performativity when in dynamic forms. We ask what agency this disruptive material has on human feelings and what are the potential relations of human living with soft robotic objects.

The cross-disciplinary project introduces work-in-progress soft-robotics toolkits developed by both soft robotic labs and the project-leading team for artist and designers from different programs at RCA to have hands-on experience and prototype projects. Collectively we will explore above questions by making prototypes and present prototypes to catalyse social conversations.

The project includes a visit to soft robotics lab in London. An electronic engineering specialist will be supporting group projects. Toolkits and essential materials are provided. The outcome projects will be exhibited physically and online.


Day 1 Introduction and inspiration

Morning session 10.30 – 13.00

10.30-10.40 warming up

10.40 -11. 30 Introduction

We will begin with an introduction to the workshop, including an opportunity for each participant to introduce themselves to the group.

The project leader will give introduction to the project, including soft robotics and programmable materials, science and engineering application, affective computing on measuring emotions, various cases of artist and designers practices employing soft robotics, and a few literatures on the philosophical discussion of the intelligent soft matters.

11.45 – 13.00 Inspiration

We aim to invite researchers and practioners from both within and outside RCA to share their practices.

Pannel discussion and Q&A with participants

Afternoon session  14.00 – 17.00

Tutorial on soft-robotics tool kits

The second half of briefing including introducing the soft robotics toolkits initiated by Harard Biodesign Lab and Trinity College Dublin, a few simplified toolkit developed through Caroline Zheng’s research prototyping, and a few web links for open source tutorials.

Participants will form groups and have hands on experience with the toolkits.

Day 2  Lab visit, Guest speaker and ideation

Morning session 10.30-12.00

The morning will be held by visiting a soft robotics lab in London (Soft robotics research lab at either King’s College, Queen Mary University of London or Imperial College). Learn the soft robotics in development at the research labs and conversations on different research methods with scientist and bio-engineers researchers at the lab.


Forming groups (max 4 people in a group). It is encouraged that each group is of mixed skill set, e.g. physical making, coding and programing, engineering, visual communication (drawing and sketching) and conceptualising.

Brain storming and ideation in groups.

Afternoon session

14 – 15h

Continue brainstorming and ideation in groups.

Group brainstorming for concept, with sketching, drawing, paper quick prototyping etc.

Discuss with technical support Adrian Godwin for physical possibilities with existing toolkits.

15 -15.30

Guest speaker, practicing artist, TED Senior Fellow Julie Freeman (date and availability to be confirmed) will talk about her PhD research connecting data visualization and soft robotics kinetic representation of behavioural systems (of moul rats and human).

15.30-16.30 Group tutorials.


Groups present project concept with visual display.

Day 3 Making

Familiarizing with soft robotic tool kits and appropriate to each group’s project. Sourcing material and making. Problem shooting.

Electronics specialist support could be given by Adrian Godwin.

15 – 16.30 Group tutorial.

16.30 – 17.00  Groups present project progress and aim for final outcome.

Day 4 Making

Groups continue making of the project.

Day 5 Exhibition and group crit

Install exhibition in the morning.

Exhibition and group crit in the afternoon.

The potential exhibition venue including the RCA, as well as interactive architecture lab(e.g. Bartlett), museum rooms, to encourage following up cross disciplinary exchanges, but the dates and availability is yet to be confirmed till later in October. Guest practioners will be invited for critique.

Follow-up activities: a symposium on Intelligent Soft Matters at RCA in the following month or in the Spring term; interested participants and researchers will keep exchanging on the topics within and outside RCA.