Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Research Topics

The Robotics & Multibody Mechanics (R&MM) Research Group from the Faculty of Engineering is involved in both fundamental and applied research on Human-Centered Robotics for more than 20 years. Her current research covers 2 main domains (pHRI and cHRI) and is applied mainly in the manufacturing industry and in healthcare. With several EU H2020 and FP7 projects, a leading role in the Strategic Research Center Flanders Make of the Flemish Government, and with solid partnerships with companies ranging from multinationals to SME's, R&MM is one of the leading research groups on the topic of Human Robotics in Belgium and Europe.

The research activities of R&MM group range from fundamental over applied research towards valorisation (we founded spin-off Axiles Bionics). The group is well known for the design and control of variable stiffness actuators, implemented in robots with applications in physical human-robot interaction and cognitive HRI.

Nowadays research interests of the group can be divided in the following main categories:

Self Healing

Robotic systems are typically dimensioned to be able to withstand occasional extreme loads, instead of being designed based on their performance tasks. This over-dimensioning results in heavy and oversized robotic systems. Moreover robotic systems become very complex systems, for which the components are less accessible for maintenance and repair. If a component fails, usually a large part of the robotic system has to be disassembled in order to replace it, which is a very costly and time-consuming intervention done by specialists. Another research topic of R&MM group is to develop a material-oriented solution by implementing self-healing (SH) materials for actuators, for which we collaborated with material scientists from FYSC. We published how the mechanical properties (especially the stiffness of the material) can be tuned and as follows, implemented in four proof of concepts of soft robotics: one mechanical fuse for a compliant actuator, a self-healing pneumatic hand, a robotic gripper and two types of pneumatic artificial muscles.

Projects on Self Healing materials:
  • SHERO: Self-Healing Soft Robotics.
  • SOPHIA: Socio-Physical Interaction Skills for Cooperative Human-Robot Systems in Agile Production.
  • SMART: Soft, Self-responsive, Smart MAterials for RoboTs.


The research group is particularly interested in the design of Variable Impedance Actuators (also known as Variable stiffness actuators, soft actuators, compliant actuators). These types of actuators are especially suited for applications involving physical human-robot interactions. In this context several new actuators were developed within R&MM group:

  • SPEAR: Series-Parallel Elastic Actuators for Robotics.
  • PPAM: Pleated Pneumatic Artificial Muscle.
  • MACCEPA: The Mechanically Adjustable Compliance and Controllable Equilibrium Position Actuator.
  • SPEA: Series-Parallel Elastic Actuation.

Social Robots

In order to work well together, human robot communication needs to be intuitive. Communication has to be human-central and the machine should adapt its communication to the human. Humans communicate verbally, but also non-verbally using gestures and emotions, especially in noisy environments like factory floors. Also robots have to be able to interpret human communication, express humanlike communication cues and act socially.
Social robots are robots that can communicate in a social way with speech, emotions and gestures.

Prosthetic Devices

Restoring the propelling characteristics of an intact ankle-foot complex to an amputated person is a huge technical challenge in the field of engineering. From biomechanical analysis it is known that, compared to the other joints of the human body, it is the ankle that produces the most energy during locomotion. To present a quantitative indication, a 75 kg person produces a maximum joint torque of 120 Nm and a peak power between 250 and 350 W at the ankle while walking at approximately 3 km/h. Recreating these joint properties with a device matching the size and weight of a human foot is therefore extremely difficult and challenging. Within the Robotics & Multibody Mechanics Research Group, great effort is made in the research of energy efficient lower limb prostheses. Several prototypes have been built such as a Powered prosthesis using PPAM (IPPAM), The AMP-Foot 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, HEKTA and CYBERLEGS.



  • ExoSafe: ExoSafe.
  • Exo4Work: Wearable upper body exoskeletons for workers.
  • SPEXOR: Spinal exoskeletal robot for low back pain prevention and vocational reintegration.
  • ALTACRO: Automated Locomotion Training using an Actuated Compliant Robotic Orthosis.
  • BIOMOT: Smart Wearable Robots with Bioinspired Sensory-Motor Skills.
  • MIRAD: Methodology to bring Intelligent Robotic Assistive Devices.

Manufacturing robots /COBOTS

Nowadays, industrial robots are heavy machines that are separated for safety reasons from human workers by cages. They are programmed to work autonomously following a fixed program and to perform repetitive and heavy-duty tasks. Aside from their relative high cost, the automation of unstructured tasks (e.g. in an unknown environment) by industrial robots is either very difficult to implement or too expensive. Furthermore, the reprogramming of the robot requires highly trained specialists and is time consuming.
Recently, there is a strong trend in both the research community and in the industry toward the development of collaborative robots, the so called COBOTS. Ideally, these robots should be specifically designed to work together with people. Instead of being caged, they should work in a cooperative environment to assist with complex tasks that cannot be fully automated and to fulfil tasks that could be risky for people, which results in fewer accidents on the work-floor. Combining the dexterity, flexibility and problem-solving ability of humans, with the strength, endurance and precision of robots, the quality of the industrial production can be improved, as well the working conditions for humans. Humans will not do any longer the dull and dangerous jobs, and the amount of workplace injuries, e.g. musculoskeletal disorders that affects millions of workers worldwide each year and that costs businesses billions in revenue, will decrease.

Several projects on this topic are conducted within R&MM group:

Walking Robots

Walking robots




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