Soft robots have the potential to transform the way robots interact with their environment. This is due to their low inertia and inherent ability to more safely interact with the world without damaging themselves or the people around them. However, existing sensing for soft robots has at least partially limited their ability to control interactions with their environment. Tactile sensors could enable soft robots to sense interaction, but most tactile sensors are made from rigid substrates and are not well suited to applications for soft robots that can deform. In addition, the benefit of being able to cheaply manufacture soft robots may be lost if the tactile sensors that cover them are expensive and their resolution does not scale well for manufacturability. Soft robots not only need to know their interaction forces due to contact with their environment, they also need to know where they are in Cartesian space. Because soft robots lack a rigid structure, traditional methods of joint estimation found in rigid robots cannot be employed on soft robotic platforms. This requires a different approach to soft robot pose estimation. This thesis will discuss both tactile force sensing and pose estimation methods for soft-robots. A method to make affordable, high-resolution, tactile sensor arrays (manufactured in rows and columns) that can be used for sensorizing soft robots and other soft bodies isReserved developed. However, the construction results in a sensor array that exhibits significant amounts of cross-talk when two taxels in the same row are compressed. Using the same fabric-based tactile sensor array construction design, two different methods for cross-talk compensation are presented. The first uses a mathematical model to calculate a change in resistance of each taxel directly. The second method introduces additional simple circuit components that enable us to isolate each taxel electrically and relate voltage to force directly. This thesis also discusses various approaches in soft robot pose estimation along with a method for characterizing sensors using machine learning. Particular emphasis is placed on the effectiveness of parameter-based learning versus parameter-free learning, in order to determine which method of machine learning is more appropriate and accurate for soft robot pose estimation. Various machine learning architectures, such as recursive neural networks and convolutional neural networks, are also tested to demonstrate the most effective architecture to use for characterizing soft-robot sensors.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Mechanical Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





Tactile Sensing, Machine Learning, Cross-talk Compensation, Parameter-free Learning, Parameter-based Learning, Soft Robot Sensing, Convolutional Neural Networks, Recursive Neural Networks