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Robert Baines

As a Branco Weiss Fellow, Dr. Robert Baines will fuse techniques from materials science, mechanism design, and machine learning to build quadruped robots with appendages that autonomously adjust shape to engage in multiple industrially-oriented tasks. Investigations of how robot shape, control scheme, and physical environment are intertwined will inform the design of robotic systems that can be deployed at industrial sites to assume tasks inherently dangerous for humans.



Academic Career

  • PhD in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Yale University, USA, 2017-2023
  • MS in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Yale University, USA, 2017-2019
  • BS in Mechanical Engineering, Rice University, USA, 2013-2017

Major Awards

  • ETH Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2023
  • Henry Prentiss Becton Graduate Research Prize, 2023
  • SNSF NCCR-Robotics PhD Exchange Fellowship, 2021
  • NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, 2018


Branco Weiss Fellow Since

Research Category
Robotics, Materials Science

Research Location
Robotic Systems Lab, Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering, ETH Zurich, Switzerland


Quadruped robots have been deployed in various industries because they can stably move through jobsites to inspect equipment while carrying many sensors. However, these robots typically lack the capacity to adaptively interact with their surroundings, due in large part to their physical hardware, which is fixed at manufacture and designed with only the objective of locomotion in mind. Many dangerous jobsite tasks are thus still routinely performed by humans, leading to thousands of workplace injuries and deaths annually.

By studying the interplay of robot form, function, and autonomy, quadruped robots with shape-changing appendages that readily adapt to different tasks beyond normal locomotion can be realized. Diverse operational utility will allow a single robot to assume multiple jobsite functions such as climbing ladders, interacting with site infrastructure, and entering confined and hazardous spaces, removing people from dangerous environments across a host of industries from construction to agriculture.

Details of Research

Dr. Robert Baines will replace the fixed metal legs of current autonomous quadrupeds with materials that modulate their shape and stiffness. Employing experimental and simulation-based techniques to devise hardware and complementary autonomous control architectures will enable robots to decide when, how, and where to adjust appendage shapes, given the particular task at hand. Feedback from end-users regarding use of quadruped robots in society will inform the selection of tasks that a single system is desired to complete. Robotic performance during benchmark tasks will not only provide concrete indicators of progress toward using shape-changing quadrupeds at real industrial sites, but spur new research avenues at the disciplinary nexus of robotics and materials science.