Design and Control of Active (Smart) Materials for High-Performance Positioning and Robotic Systems

Lecture / Panel
For NYU Community

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Department Seminar Series

Kam K. Leang,
Associate Professor
University of Utah Robotics Center and Department of Mechanical Engineering

Active (smart) material-based actuators, such as those fabricated from piezoelectric ceramics and electroactive polymers, have attracted great attention for engineering nano and bio-inspired systems.  For example, piezoactuators are used in nanopositioners, scanning probe microscopes, high-density data storage devices, and flapping-wing microrobots; and ionic polymer metal composites, a type of electroactive polymer, are exploited to create bio-inspired sensors and actuators for soft robotics.  A critical problem with these actuators, however, is the existence of performance-degrading effects such as hysteresis, creep, vibration, back-relaxation, and other nonlinear and time-varying effects. These behaviors, unfortunately, cause significant positioning error and limit performance in terms of precision, speed, repeatability, and reliability.  This talk will first focus on theoretical and experimental results in design and control to address these issues.  Specifically, control algorithms that exploit the process of repetition, dual-stage configurations, and system models to compensate for deficit performance will be presented.  Experimental results from key projects in the area of high-speed nanopositioning and actuators for soft robotics will be discussed.  At the end, new ongoing work will be highlighted, including work on 3D printing techniques for creating ionic polymer-metal composite based soft robots and motion planning and control of mobile robots for environmental monitoring and first response.

Kam K. Leang received the B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, in December 1997 and 1999, respectively, and the Ph.D. degree from the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, in December 2004. He is an Associate Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Utah, where he joined in July 2014.  Between 2008 and 2014, he was at the University of Nevada, Reno.  His research interests include: modeling and precision control of electroactive (smart) material actuators (piezoelectrics and electroactive polymers), nanopositioning and scanning probe microscopy, and design, motion planning, and control of mobile robots for application in emergency response and environmental monitoring.  His work is supported by federal agencies (such as the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Defense, Dept. of Energy, NASA) and industry.  He currently serves as an Associate Editor for IEEE Control Systems Magazine, Mechatronics (Elsevier), the International Journal of Intelligent Robotics and Applications (IJIRA), and Frontiers in Mechatronics. More details about his research can be found at