Tactile Robots: Building the Machine and Learning the Self

Lecture / Panel
For NYU Community

Sami Haddadin smiling for the camera


Dr. Sami Haddadin
Professor, Robotics and System Intelligence School
TUM School of Computation, Information and Technology


"Tactile Robots: Building the Machine and Learning the Self"


The development of robots that can learn to interact with the world and manipulate its objects has emerged as one of the greatest and, so far, largely unsolved challenges in robotics research. In this talk, I will argue that developing such advanced machines requires transitioning from classical manual design with purely model-based control to a novel paradigm. We must allow the machine to autonomously develop its own blueprint and generate its topological, kinematic, and dynamic self. Building on this, it shall develop controls for its own body as it moves, learns to manipulate objects in a controlled way, and sensitively interacts with the world. 

Drawing from our work in torque-controlled lightweight robots towards human-safe tactile robots that can manipulate, fly, or drive, I explain the technological quantum leaps that have recently taken place. In particular, this progress was made possible by human-centered design, soft and force-sensitive control, contact reflexes, and model-based machine learning. In the real world, by enabling human-robot coexistence, collaboration, and interaction for the first time, this robotic technology has proven transformative to traditional manufacturing already around the globe. It increasingly impacts professional services, domestic applications, medicine, and healthcare.  

Then, I will use our current work to chart the path toward the next generation of tactile machines. We have taken the first steps towards increasingly autonomous designing and building machines that can learn their self and thus adapt to changes in body topology and, ultimately, their entire dynamics. Finally, I will present recent results on designing modular control and learning architectures that achieve complex behaviors for challenging manipulation problems while being probably stable.

About Speaker 

Sami Haddadin is the Director of the Munich Institute of Robotics and Machine Intelligence at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and holds the Chair of Robotics and Systems Intelligence. His research interests include human-centered robotics, embodied AI, collective intelligence, and human-robot symbiosis. He is best known for his contributions to tactile mechatronics, contact-aware robots, safety methods in human-robot interaction, and autonomous manipulation learning. Before joining TUM, he was Chair of the Institute of Automatic Control at Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University Hannover from 2014 to 2018. Before that, he held various research positions at the German Aerospace Center DLR. He holds electrical engineering, computer science, and technology management degrees from the Technical University of Munich and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He received his PhD with summa cum laude from RWTH Aachen University and published more than 200 scientific articles in international journals and conferences, many of them award-winning. He has received numerous awards for his scientific work, including the George Giralt PhD Award (2012), the RSS Early Career Spotlight (2015), the IEEE/RAS Early Career Award (2015), the Alfried Krupp Award for Young Professors (2015), the German President’s Award for Innovation in Science and Technology (2017) and the Leibniz Prize (2019), Germany’s most important science award.