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Facebook hires PhD students for soft robotics research



GettyImages 816884726
demonstration of grippers built using soft robotics

Paul Marotta/Getty Images
for TechCrunch

  • Facebook has several open job listings for PhD students in
    “soft robotics”
  • Soft robotics is a field of robotics that draws inspiration
    from biology and focuses on creating robots with compliant
  • The roles do not appear to have any direct relation to
    current hardware projects underway at Facebook.

Facebook is trying to figure out how to build robots that move
and act like real animals.

The Silicon Valley tech giant has, for the last year, been hiring
PhD students to conduct research in the field of “soft robotics,”
a field of robotics that draws
inspiration from biology
— from elephant tusks to octupuses
and lizard tongues — to create more flexible and versatile robots
more akin to animals than the traditional stereotype of boxy

Using next-generation materials and experimental designs, today’s
soft robotics projects can resemble worms and cephalopods,
bending and flexing to perform tasks rigid robots couldn’t
handle, and adapting to real-world environments.

hey can carry soft and fragile payloads
without causing damage … they can squeeze through openings
smaller than their nominal dimensions,” researchers
wrote in 2008
. “This makes them ideal for applications such
as personal robots that interact with people without causing
injury, service and painting robots that need high dexterity to
reach confined spaces, medical robots, especially for use in
surgery, and defence and rescue robots that operate in
unstructured environments.”

It’s not clear what Facebook’s soft robotics researches have been
working on, and a company spokesperson did not immediately
respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. Other
researchers in the field have looked into using the technology to
build bioinspired
insect-scale running robots,
… artificial muscles,”
and “soft
pneumatic fingers.”

soft robotics inflatable robot arm
is an inflatable robotic arm at the Robotics Institute of
Carnegie Mellon University that helped inspire the production
team of Disney’s Big Hero 6 in Baymax’s

Commons (CC)

There are currently three open postings at Facebook to work on
soft robotics in Redmond, Washington, according to job listings
seen by Business Insider. The company is seeking people with
backgrounds in bioengineering, mechanical engineering, robotics,
materials science, and other subjects, “to develop
next-generation soft robotic systems at our research location in

“So far the best ideas have come out of robotics”

There’s a heavy focus on creating novel materials and
developing new technology: “
These roles are focused on the
research and invention of haptics, soft active materials, fluidic
actuators, and novel manufacturing techniques,” one listing

Facebook’s interest in the field has not been previously been
reported, but it has been quietly hiring researchers in the field
for more than a year, social
media posts show
. The far-out tech has no clear
commercial application in any of the consumer hardware products
Facebook currently builds, from its Oculus virtual reality
headsets to the Portal video-chat device — so why is the company
investing in it?

Facebook’s chief AI scientist has previously said that the
company is broadly investing in robotics because potential
learnings from the field may be transferrable to its work in
artificial intelligence. “Clearly we’re missing something in
terms of how humans can learn so fast,”
he said in July 2018
. “So far the best ideas have come out of

But the listings make clear these roles aren’t just working on
theory or simulation — they’re actually building the physical
robotics tech. The first listed responsibility is to
“research next generation soft
haptic and robotic devices with an emphasis on both theory and
physical embodiment of the new concepts.”

One of
the three job postings
is also for “mechatronics” — a hybrid
discipline that combines different fields of engineering.

“This puts applications of robotics, control systems,
electro-mechanical systems, and similar engineering in this
as one mechantronic engineer explained on Medium

Do you work at Facebook? Do you know
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