Illinois ECE Assistant Professor Arijit Banerjee recently won the NSF CAREER award for his work with bio-inspired design methods for distributed electromechanical actuators to emulate a biological spine. This prestigious award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.
Banerjee΄s award-winning work focuses on creating a class of modular and distributed electromechanical actuators and developing a power network that will enable robots to be agile, efficient, and capable of reproducing biological motions that today are impossible.
“Our research envisions [advancing]… power networks and actuators in robots to converge with the exploding capability of artificial intelligence and autonomous control, saving human lives and enhancing national security,” said Banerjee. “The integrated education and outreach plan aims to ignite curiosity in students about electromechanics and power electronics—foundations of our modern civilization—by using robotics as the catalyst.”
Although state-of-the-art bio-inspired robots have achieved exquisite maneuvers, such systems have yet to closely replicate the grace, fluidity, and agility of their biological counterparts. Banjeree΄s work tackles a critical need to re-imagine these robots as a complex network of electromechanical actuators by emulating a biological spine.
A distributed actuator mimicking the spine mechanism will improve mobility, efficiency, and stability of robots in search, rescue, and recovery making them the first line of defense for disaster relief as well as surveillance reconnaissance, inspection, and exploration applications.
By building a hardware prototype of a synthetic spine, the project plans to construct demonstration kits using research results that connect math and theory to the craft of real-world systems such as robots and automated systems. The demo kit blueprint will be shared with K–12 educators to help them teach their STEM clubs.

Excerpted from an article by Joseph Park:

Read more in “A Distributed Spring-Aided Vertical Electromechanical Spine for Bio-Inspired Robots” by Bonhyun Ku (Advanced Research Projects)