Category Archives: Research Projects


The lack of a rigid backbone gives the arms of the octopus potentially infinite degrees of freedom, which makes them highly flexible and hyper-redundant. This would require a high level of computing resources if the body morphology of these arms would not have been designed so that their interaction with the environment simplifies their actuation. Their body morphology encodes strategies to translate a simple input into complex movements, e.g. to reach and fetch prey. Encoding these strategies in the design of artificial soft bodies can simplify the actuation of complex movements in soft robotic applications and extend soft robotic functionalities. Manufacturing techniques should be developed to incorporate this kind of intelligence in artificial soft bodies mechanically.

This study focuses on the working principles behind the embodied intelligence of the octopus arm and the development of manufacturing techniques to acquire the same level of mechanical intelligence in artificial soft bodies. Smart materials will be combined with conventional and unconventional silicone manufacturing techniques. Comparable to the octopus arm, these intelligent soft bodies are functional in small- and large-scale applications, which makes them widely employable. Examples of applications that could benefit from these intelligent soft bodies are steerable catheters for Minimal Invasive Surgery or soft grippers for deep-sea exploration.

For more information, please contact Vera Kortman,

Photo by Oleksandr Sushko on Unsplash

CloudWalker, towards accessible low-effort exoskeleton walking

This research project is funded by Care for Quality of Life Foundation.

A spinal cord injury is an uncommon but serious condition. In addition to paralysis symptoms, people with a spinal cord injury have many additional health problems, such as pain, spasticity and sore spots. A spinal cord injury therefore causes significant obstacles to social participation and a lower quality of life. In addition, wheelchair users with a spinal cord injury are physically inactive, which leads to new health problems, such as sore spots and cardiovascular disease. Regular exercise is therefore very important to stay in good health. Walking in an exoskeleton even offers health benefits, including reduced spasticity and improved intestinal function. People also find standing interaction valuable and experience an improved quality of life. To maintain these benefits, regular use of an exoskeleton is necessary.

However, the commercially available motorized exoskeletons are difficult to handle, heavy and have little added value in daily life. In addition, they are very expensive. This makes walking exercise only accessible to a small group of people. In this project we are developing a safe, user-friendly, lightweight and affordable exoskeleton, with which we can make walking possible for a much larger proportion of people with leg problems. Characteristic of this exoskeleton is that the user can drive it efficiently with his own body force from the upper body. The first developed prototype contains hinged hips that are connected to each other via a flexible coupling. Movement of the upper body allows the user to move one leg forward. Energy is stored in the elastic element with each step, which is released again in the next step.

Nianlei Zhang is currently working on this project as his Ph.D. research. Are you interested?

Relevant links:
Cloudwalker: werktuigkundige principes en menselijk functioneren komen samen
The Cloud Walker: a lightweight, user-driven exoskeleton for people with Spinal Cord Injuries

Computational design optimization of patient-specific shape-morphing catheter tips

This research project is funded by the faculty of Mechanical Engineering of Delft University of Technology.

Catheters are essential for minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat pathologies such as heart failure. The vascular system exhibits a complex geometry with multiple branches, junctions and obstacles. Selection of the appropriate tools and shapes requires thorough planning and patient imaging data. To ease the procedure and limit the consecutive use of catheters with different tip shapes, there is a need for versatile compliant tips that can smoothly morph between patient-specific predefined shapes.

This research aims to develop a computational optimization framework to design wire-actuated compliant catheter tips that deform between predefined shapes as a function of the magnitude of force applied by the operator. The framework allows for designing tips with variable tube wall geometry, material properties, and wire guiding patterns while preserving the tube-like structure of the tip. Collectively, these variables allow for the design freedom required to achieve tailored local mechanical properties and loading that jointly define extreme shape-morphing capabilities.

NWO MEDPHOT – MRI-ready steerable needles

This research project is part of the MEDPHOT programme and is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research NWO. The MEDPHOT programme, carried out bij a consortium of Dutch Universities, university medical centres, and companies, aims to develop new optical biomarkers that are needed to realise earlier diagnosis, improved treatment and better quality of life in the fields of oncology, asthma, and neurodegeneration.

The standard surgical treatment of prostate cancer is radical prostatectomy. However, side effects of radical prostatectomy are incontinence and erectile dysfunction. A local treatment that preserves noncancerous tissue like focal laser ablation reduces these side effects. Focal laser ablation is an optical fibre-based laser ablation treatment that allows for fast percutaneous focal ablation of prostate tumours. Using needles and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guidance, the medical operator can position optical fibres at the target region. However, for ablation to be successful, it is important to have full positioning control over the accuracy and extend of the ablation.

This research aims to develop an MRI in-bore ready steerable needles to position the optical treatment fibre at the target region. A novel actuation system will allow for safe use inside the MRI scanner.  The integration of the steerable needle, the novel actuation system, and a laser ablation fibre will make the needle suitable for use under MRI guidance to enable precise ablation of the prostate tumour.

NWO – Spine Stabilization

This research project is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research NWO and conducted in collaboration with Philips Research, DEAM, Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden, Amsterdam University Medical Center and Reinier de Graaf Hospital in Delft.

Spinal fusion is the surgical procedure of stiffening parts of the spinal column with screws and rods to, among others, reduce back pain for patients affected by multiple diseases. Vertebrae have an outer layer of hard cortical bone surrounding the softer core that consists of cancelous bone. The strength of the connection between vertebra and screw mainly relies on the contact area with the cortical bone, but drilling close to this cortical bone layer is risky, as it can lead to cortical breaches. These breaches can have severe complications, especially since important neural and vascular structures run along the spinal column.

This research will focus on creating a better fixation of the screws and preventing complications that can arise due to cortical breaches by developing a steerable bone drill with an optical sensing system in the tip. This allows the surgeon to drill a curved path along the cortical bone layer while getting real time information about the location of the drill. Regular stiff screws will not fit this curved hole, thus a new anchoring device will be developed that is flexible when introduced to the curved hole and that can become rigid to generate the needed fixation.


Our aim in ‘Project Inspiration’ is to quickly develop an emergency mechanical ventilator, inspired by a mechanical ventilator from the 60’s. A team of staff members and students, led by Gerwin Smit, has developed a new ventilator, that can be manufactured anywhere in the world. More information can be found at:


EU ATLAS – autonomous intraluminal surgery

This research is part of the AuTonomous intraLuminAl Surgery Innovative Training Network ( ATLAS-ITN) and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 813782 .

The goal of this project is to develop smart, flexible robots that autonomously propel themselves through complex, deformable, tubular structures. This calls for seamless integration of sensors, actuators, modelling and control.

Two early-stage researchers, Fabian Trauzettel (ESR 1) and Chun-Feng Lai (ESR 12), will be based at TU Delft, while two others, Di Wu (ESR 11) and Zhen Li (ESR 13) will have TU Delft as their secondary institution. They will focus on multi-steerable catheter technology, follow-the-leader control, control of multi-DOF catheters in unknown environments, and path planning / real-time re-planning. Details of their projects can be found here.

Research in the network will be conducted at KU Leuven, TU Delft, University of Strasbourg, Politecnico di Milano, Università di Verona, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna Pisa, and UPC Barcelona.

EU 3DMED – 3D Printed eye surgery instruments

This research is part of EU Interreg 2 Seas Mers Zeeën 3D MED: Development and streamlined integration of 3D printing technologies to enable advanced medical treatment and its widespread application.

The goal of this project is to research the possibilities of 3D printing for the advanced design and production of medical devices, in order to improve affordability and accessibility of medical treatment. The benefit of 3D printing is that complex shapes can be created in one single production step, which offers great potential for easy manufacturing and added functionality. The focus will be on developing design methods for complex medical devices with internal mechanisms used in eye surgery, which can be printed as one functioning assembly. This research is executed in collaboration with DORC, the Dutch Ophthalmic Research Centre.

4TU – Dutch Soft Robotics

This programme is a collaboration of the four technical universities of the Netherlands (4TU): Eindhoven University of Technology, University of Twente, Wageningen University, and Delft University of Technology. See

Conventional robots operate in pre-programmed environments, enabling the execution of repetitive tasks at superhuman speed and accuracy, based on a design of interlinked rigid segments that are position controlled. A radically different approach is required to enable robots to safely interact with organic matter (which is inherently vulnerable and unpredictable) or to operate in human-inhabited environments. Robots should be soft and compliant, but designing, manufacturing, modelling and controlling them brings many scientific and technological challenges. These challenges have recently begun to be addressed in the emerging research community of ‘soft robotics’.

Our soft robotics programme aims to establish a leading soft robotics community in the Netherlands, that will establish an integrated design approach for soft robotic hardware, control and actuation, inspired by nature. Unlike conventional robots, humans and animals are soft and flexible, and adaptive. While in conventional robots components such as motors, sensors, beams and computer are stacked, in animals functionalities such sensing, control, and actuation are fully integrated, distributed, and robust (i.e., failure of parts does not lead to a non-functional system). In biology the nervous system is distributed over the entire body, and the ‘design’ of the biomechanical motion systems reduces the control demands for the nervous system. For this reason, we want to unravel the solutions found in nature, and use them as inspiration for the design of Soft Robots.

Novel non-assembly 3D printed structures will be explored to integrate electronics and embedded micro-actuators. Additionally, we will investigate bio-inspired power cable structures that can withstand extreme stretch due to their shape. In close collaboration with Wageningen University, we will combine bio-to-techno transfer with techno-to-bio transfer, whereby knowledge of biological functionality is gained from building soft robotic devices.

For more information about this project, please contact Aimée Sakes,

NWO – Pressure Wave Catheter for Coronary Interventions

This research project is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research NWO.

Crossing heavily calcified occlusions, such as Chronic Total Occlusions (CTOs), is challenging, resulting in undesirably low success rates between 50% and 90% depending on the operator’s experience and the characteristics of the CTO. The most common failure mode observed in the preferred treatment, the Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI), is the inability to cross the occlusion due to buckling of the guidewire. The inability to cross the CTO often leads to procedural failure and can cause damage to the blood vessel wall.

In order to prevent buckling of the crossing tool and improve the procedural success rates of PCI, we developed a novel, well-working catheter prototype that can apply a mechanical impulse, defined as the integral of a peak force over a small time interval, on the CTO during the crossing procedure. Using an impulse to dynamically load the CTO  is advantageous as the impulse strongly decreases the buckling effect and the static forces on the CTO and its environment, minimizing the risk of damage to the blood vessel wall and the surrounding tissues.

During this TTW demonstrator project we will develop our patented catheter prototype further into a  handheld clinical prototype incorporating an  adjustable tip section as well as a dedicated input mechanism allowing for generating a single impulse as well as continuously vibrating motions. The efficiency and effectiveness of the clinical prototype will be evaluated on CTO models and during ex-vivo and in-vivo animal evaluations.