The Soft Robotics Toolkit grew out of research conducted at Harvard University and Trinity College Dublin which focused on developing better instructional kits for hands-on design courses. The toolkit was initially developed in the Harvard Biodesign Lab through a user-centred design approach to understanding the needs of student designers in ES227 Medical Device Design, a project-based mechanical design course in which teams of undergraduate and graduate students work with clinicians to develop novel medical devices. A soft robotics focus was added to the course in order to connect student projects with the cutting-edge robotics research being conducted at Harvard, exposing the students to the latest research findings and giving them the chance to participate in advanced technology development.
This change to the course was piloted in 2013, with the addition of instructional labs on soft actuator fabrication and an early prototype of a fluidic control board. However, it soon became clear that the student teams needed more detailed information to support the development of their soft robotic devices. The teaching team took note of the information the students were seeking out and decided to create a more comprehensive resource that future students could use to learn how to design, fabricate, model, and test their own soft robotic devices. Thus, the Soft Robotics Toolkit was born.
Since then, the toolkit has been steadily growing through testing and feedback, not just in the number of soft robotic components that are documented on the site (the first pilot version had just 3) but in the quality of the content. This has been supported by contributions from a range of research groups with assistance from the toolkit development team. Pilot tests were conducted with non-scientists to ensure that the information is as clear as possible, and the toolkit was successfully used by students in the U.S. and India to build soft robotic medical devices of their own. And it’s not just students – soft robotics researchers across the world have also been interacting with the toolkit, both contributing material and using content from it to further their own work.
We hope to continue to improve and expand the toolkit with the help of other soft robotics researchers worldwide. The goal is for the Soft Robotics Toolkit be a useful shared resource that can help advance the field, and for this to happen we need your help! Support the toolkit, send us feedback, or contribute your work; we look forward to hearing from you.
Toolkit Development Team
Evelyn J. Park
Conor J. Walsh