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UCL Mechanical Engineering
Faculty of Engineering Sciences

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Helge Wurdemann talks about ‘soft’ robots

Meet our People: Helge Wurdemann

Helge Wurdemann talks robotic art, soft futures, and haptic devices.

Helge Wurdemann talks about ‘soft’ robots

Why UCL?

UCL’s motto translated into English is: “Let all come who by merit deserve the most reward”. It’s a very welcoming and inspiring motto that represents UCL’s commitment to educating people of any background – trying to achieve a diverse community, giving everyone an equal chance to grow and conduct research excellence. This is UCL’s foundation – and I want to be a part of creating this environment.

Before joining UCL, I heard that researchers at UCL have the incentive to collaborate across groups, departments and faculties. People mention that it feels like you are part of a like-minded community that wants to engage with you, that wants to collaborate with you, that wants to help you grow. Literally the day I started at UCL, Ruairi Glynn from the Bartlett School of Architecture and I started collaborating and organised a workshop together on soft machines and soft architecture. I took the opportunity to present my research on soft robotics and to also demonstrate how to build structures that can be fluidically actuated (where movement activated by fluid). I enjoy this collaborative atmosphere a lot.

What role do you think soft materials have in the future of robotics?

I believe there is a lot of potential in creating robotic systems from soft materials – especially when it comes to interactions between humans and robots. Traditionally – robots in industrial and medical settings are made of rigid joints and rigid links. Robots that are soft are inherently safe due to their material properties and, therefore, people feel more comfortable working with them. Many soft robots today are moulded using silicone material. This silicone is a quite “young” and new material for roboticists – hence, there is great potential! On the other hand, there are also other soft materials such as fabrics that might be suitable to build soft robots.

What are some of your research interests?

As mentioned, my main interest is in creating soft robots, soft robotic systems and structures, and their applications. I am also interested in haptic interfaces that feedback or mimic the sense of touch in cases where the sense of touch is lost. Here, I am looking into methods such as visual stimuli that are able to replace force feedback and are equally effective.

Before I went to university, I taught children with physical and mental disabilities. Experiencing that their lives can be much improved by assistive technologies inspired me to study engineering. I certainly would like to help these people through my research.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love travelling – especially to destinations my colleagues are from. One of my most memorable trips was when I travelled all the way from North Vietnam to South Vietnam by bus and train. I was inspired by the nature and the people – they were very friendly and invited me and my companions into their homes.

Another trip was to Iran – I was not aware that I planned my trip during Ramadan. On top of that, it was an extremely hot summer in Iran – which was very tiring. When I was in Shiraz, the city would become a big park “party” in the evening.  All these families and people were sharing food, talking to you, and offering to host you. It’s a very amazing experience I associate with Iran.

I also like music and playing guitar and drums. I recently started playing drums and would like to learn it further at UCL.

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