The Organic Robotics Lab (ORL) focuses on using synthetic adaptation of natural physiology to improve machine function and autonomy. Our research spans three primary areas: bioinspired robotics, soft sensors and displays, and advanced manufacturing. We use soft materials, mechanical design, and novel fabrication methods to replicate sensory organs such as cutaneous mechanoreceptors, replicate organs that rely on actuation such as the heart, and to power soft actuators and robots.


Professor Rob Shepherd is an Engaged Learning + Research Faculty Fellow at Cornell University. One of our primary goals is to convert the iterative design & manufacturing process developed in professor Shepherd's courses and research at Cornell into an instructional resource that can be widely disseminated. Previously, we developed a program for teaching robotics to K-12 students using soft materials that resulted in a peer-reviewed publication: Air-Powered Soft Robots for K-12 Classrooms.


May 31, 2018

Ronald, Shuo, Autumn and Maura pass their Q-exams. Congratulations!

May 30, 2018

Professor Shepherd is promoted to Associate Professor. Congratulations on your Tenure, Professor Shepherd!

May 25, 2018

Professor Shepherd is awarded an AFOSR grant: Localized and Rapid Variable Compliance Via Phase Changing Matter and Distributed Computation.

May 4, 2018

TJ and Professor Shpherd's review on 3D printing of soft robotic systems is featured Nature Reviews materials!

April 19, 2018

Kevin is selected as a Cornell PhD Commercialization Fellow. Congratulations, Kevin!

April 9, 2018

TJ successfully defends his PhD dissertation. Congratulations, Dr. Wallin!

April 3, 2018

Autumn is selected as an NSF graduate fellowship scholar. Congratulations, Autumn!

Jan 29, 2018

Ben successfully defends his PhD dissertation. Congratulations, Dr. MacMurray!

Jan 1, 2018

Sanlin's work on patient specific left atrial appendage occluders is featured on the cover of Nature Biomedical Engineering!

Dec 11, 2017

Bryan successfully defends his PhD dissertation. Congratulations, Dr. Peele!

Dec 7, 2017

Kevin Passes his A-exam. Congratulations, Kevin!

Dec 1, 2017

Patricia and Kevin are awarded NIH TL-1 awards from Cornell’s Clinical and Translational Science Center!

Nov 10, 2017

Sanlin successfully defends her PhD dissertation. Congratulations, Dr. Robinson!

Oct 26, 2017

Ben's work on buckled foam actuators is featured in Soft Robotics!

Oct 13, 2017

James's work on texture-morphing camouflage is featured in Science!

Aug 1, 2017

Professor Shepherd is awarded an NSF EAGER Grant: Reliable Control for Soft Robots Through Sensor Placement!

Jul 17, 2017

Bryan and Ben's work on stretchable transducers for kinesthetic interactions in virtual reality is featured at SIGGRAPH '17!

Jul 17, 2017

TJ's work on conductive 3D-printed hydrogels is featured in Advanced Functional Materials!

Jul 6, 2017

TJ's work on Click chemistry stereolithography for soft robots that self-heal is featured in Journal of Materials Chemistry B!

May 31, 2017

Professor Shepherd's review paper on fluid-driven soft robotics is featured in Advanced Engineering Materials!

May 25, 2017

Kevin Passes his qualifying exam.

May 25, 2017

Patricia Passes her qualifying exam.

May 3, 2017

Chris successfully defends his PhD dissertation. Congratulations, Dr. Larson!

February 21, 2017

Rob Shepherd awarded the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award.

December 6, 2016

Huichan's work on stretchable optical sensors published in Science Robotics.

December 5, 2016

Huichan successfully defends her PhD dissertation, and Rob successfully graduates his first PhD student.

November 9, 2016

Ilse's work on metal foams composites is featured on Nova's Treasures of the Earth Documentary.

November 4, 2016

Lihong and Sanlin's work synthetic arteries published in Advanced Eng. Materials.

September 1, 2016

Capt. Kevin O'Brien featured on cover of Airman Magazine.

August 15, 2016

Sanlin passes her A-exam. Congratulations, Sanlin!

August 3, 2016

Work from the Organic Robotics Lab is featured in episode of Rai Tv's SuperQuark.

August 1, 2016

Shuo's paper on stretchable displays published in Advanced Materials.

June 7, 2016

Rob is awarded $650,000 grant from Army Research Laboratory. Press Release

May 11, 2016

Ilse passes her A-exam. Congratulations, Ilse!

April 29, 2016

Bryan passes his A-exam. Congratulations, Bryan!

April 29, 2016

Shuo defends his master's thesis. Congratulations, Shuo!

March 4, 2016

Highly stretchable electroluminescent skin for tactile sensing and optical signaling published in Science. Congratulations to Chris, Bryan, Shuo, and Sanlin.

February 12, 2016

'Morphing Metal and Elastomer Bicontinuous Foams for Reversible Stiffness, Shape Memory, and Self-Healing Soft Machines' published in Advanced Materials. Congratulations Ilse!

December 18, 2015

Ben passes his A-exam. Congratulations, Ben!

December 17, 2015

Chris passes his A-exam. Congratulations, Chris!

October 20, 2015

Shepherd Lab is awarded the SURP grant from NASA to work on 3d printing of low-RMS SiC mirrors in collaboration with JPL.

October 7, 2015

The Shepherd Lab wins the 2015 Soft Robotics Design Competition for its Soft Wheel Robot.

October 2, 2015

Ben's work on poroelastic foam actuators covered in Popular Science, New Scientist, Newsweek, the Cornell Chronicle, and Medical Express.

October 1, 2015

'3D printing antagonistic systems of artificial muscle using projection stereolithography' published in Biomimetics and Bioinspiration. Congratulations Bryan Peele!

September 28, 2015

Chris' book chapter entitled '3D Bioprinting Technologies for Cellular Engineering' published in Springer.

September 25, 2015

'Integrated soft sensors and elastomeric actuators for tactile machines with kinesthetic sense' featured on the cover of Extreme Mechanics Letters. Congratulations Sanlin Robinson!

September 19, 2015

'Poroelastic Foams for Simple Fabrication of Complex Soft Robots' featured on the cover of Advanced Materials. Congratulations Ben Mac Murray!

September 19, 2015

'Direct Ink Writing of Silicon Carbide for Microwave Optics' featured on the cover of Advanced Engineering Materials. Congratulations Chris Larson! Click here to see Materials Views article.

August 25, 2015

TJ passes his A-Exam. Congratulations TJ!

July 20, 2015

Professor Shepherd wins the Philosophical Life Raft Debate at Cornell University. Congratulations Rob!

June 7, 2015

The Shepherd Lab receives Engaged Learning & Research Fellowship grant.

June 15, 2015

Huichan passes her A-exam. Congratulations!

June 4, 2015

The Shepherd Lab receives grant from the Army Research Office (ARO).

May 17, 2015

The Shepherd Lab receives Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

May 15, 2015

'Scalable manufacturing of high force wearable soft actuators' published in Extreme Mechanics Letters. Congratulations Huichan!

January 17, 2015

Ilse passes her Q-exam. Congratulations!

November 27, 2014

Professor Shepherd receives the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) Young Investigator Award for his work on “Co-Continuous Metal-Elastomer Foam Actuators for Morphing MAVs.” Press Release

May 15, 2014

Bryan passes his Q-exam. Congratulations!

May 15, 2014

Ben passes his Q-exam. Congratulations!

April 15, 2014

Professor Shepherd receives the Young Alumnus Award for Material Science from the University of Illinois.

April 15, 2014

Ilse awarded the Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

April 15, 2014

Bryan awarded the Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

February 5, 2014

Professor Shepherd receives the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award.

Jan 16, 2014

Chris passes his Q-exam. Congratulations!

May 7, 2013

Huichan passes her Q-exam. Congratulations!


The Shepherd Lab is focused on the advancement of soft robotics systems. This includes walking robots, soft electronic skins that sense touch and shape in response to mechanical stimuli, and biomimetic actuators that mimic the function and movements of natural organs, such as the heart. We achieve this by coupling bio-inspired design with advanced fabrication methods (e.g., 3d printing, soft lithography, and rotational molding).


Sensors & Displays

We develop electronic sensors and visual displays from purely soft materials (elastomers, hydrogel, embedded hard components) for soft robotics, prosthetics, and wearable devices.

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Bio-inspired Machines

Our primary research thrust is the design, fabrication, and optimization of soft actuating systems for applications in robotics and human interface and assistive technologies.

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Advanced Manufacturing

We develop advanced methods based on direct ink writing, digital mask projection stereolithography, conformal lithographyTM, and rotational molding to fabricate soft robots, wearable devices, displays, and sensors.

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Media & Press

ORL Research Featured in Xploration Earth 2050

Steve Rotfeld Productions

OrbTouch: using soft media as human computer interfaces

Learn more

OmniPulse haptic sleeve featured at NVIDIA GTC 2017

Venture Beat

Gentle bot: A spongy robot hand with a sense of touch

Covered by NPR, Daily Mail, Cornell Chronicle, Nature World News, CS Monitor, Gizmodo, Motherboard, Optics & Photonics News, E&T Magazine, Physics.org, and PddNet.

Metal foams featured in Nova's Treasures of the Earth documentary

PBS Nova

Engineers develop robotic, self-powered ‘smart skin’

RT America press

Heart-like foam actuator that can pump fluid

Covered in Popular Science, the New Scientist, and Newsweek

A multigait soft robot that can walk, crawl, and traverse obstacles

Covered in The Huffington Post

Soft-Robotic Rover with Electrodynamic Power Scavenging

NASA Press Release

Selected Publications

Full list

Patient-specific design of a soft occluder for the left atrial appendage

Nature Biomedical Engineering (2018)

Stretchable surfaces with programmable 3D texture morphing for synthetic camouflaging skins

Science (2017)

Optoelectronically innervated soft prosthetic hand via stretchable optical waveguides

Science Robotics (2016)

Highly stretchable electroluminescent skin for tactile sensing and optical signaling.

Science (2016)

Morphing Metal and Elastomer Bicontinuous Foams for Reversible Stiffness, Shape Memory, and Self-Healing Soft Machines

Advanced Materials (2016)

Poroelastic Foams for Simple Fabrication of Complex Soft Robots

Advanced Materials (2015)

Integrated soft sensors and elastomeric actuators for tactile machines with kinesthetic sense.

Extreme Mechanics Letters (2015)

Camouflage and Display for Soft Machines

Science (2012)

Multigait Soft Robot

PNAS (2011)

Our Team

Group members & alumni

Rob Shepherd

Associate Professor
Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering


Shannon Backarich

Postdoctoral Fellow
Mechanical Engineering


Ilse Van Meerbeek

PhD Candidate
Mechanical Engineering


Kevin O'Brien

PhD Candidate
Mechanical Engineering


Shuo Li

PhD Student
Materials Science & Engineering


Patricia Xu

PhD Student
Mechanical Engineering


Autumn Pratt

PhD Student
Mechanical Engineering


Maura O'Neill

PhD Student
Mechanical Engineering


Jose Antonio Barreiros

PhD Student
Systems Engineering


Ronald Heisser

PhD Student
Theoretical and Applied Mechanics


Lillia Bai

PhD Student
Mechanical Engineering


Cam Aubin

PhD Student
Mechanical Engineering


Zheng Liu

M.S. Student
Mechanical Engineering


Kaiyang Wang

M.S. Student
Materials Science & Engineering


Ho-Jung Yang

B.S. Student
Electrical and Computer Engineering


Michael Xiao

B.S. Student
Electrical and Computer Engineering


Shubhom Bhattacharya

B.S. Student
Electrical and Computer Engineering


Lennard Wiesner

B.S. Student
Chemical Engineering


Maddie Jacks

B.S. Student
Mechanical Engineering