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Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 55 | 29. August 2017
Priority Programme „Soft Material Robotic Systems” (SPP 2100)

In 2017, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Soft Material Robotic Systems” (SPP 2100). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

The emergence of soft material robotic systems has been fuelled by a paradigm shift in the design of robotic systems. In contrast to extrinsically soft robots, in which compliance is achieved through mechanism design and control, soft material robots consist predominantly of materials which are intrinsically compliant, i.e. materials whose Young’s modulus is in the order of 104-109 Pa. These materials also tend to be extremely stretchable, being able to withstand strains of several hundred percent. The intrinsic compliance allows soft material robots to undergo very large deformations and safely conform to and interact with their environment.

Despite its tremendous potential, the paradigm shift from stiff to soft presents significant challenges not only for the design and fabrication of smart materials, components, and systems but also for the modelling and control of soft robots. In soft robotics, the strict distinction between hard- and software is gradually becoming blurred as computation is in part taken over by the structure’s morphology. The Priority Programme seeks to unravel the consequences of the shift from stiff to soft robot designs in a highly interdisciplinary context. Research in the proposed programme should help to make the power of the soft paradigm more accessible and to leverage this power for the development of more flexible and adaptable robotic systems.

The Priority Programme comprises five core research areas, in which the transition from stiff to soft robot designs is to be explored:

  • Soft materials:
    Soft material robotic systems benefit from the intrinsic compliance of the materials, some of which provide additional functionalities such as actuation or sensing capabilities.
  • Design and fabrication:
    The design and fabrication of soft material robotic systems involves considerations regarding e.g. the choice of materials and the appropriate placement of actuators and sensors.
  • Soft actuators and sensors:
    Soft material robotic systems feature soft and stretchable actuators and sensors and a high level of functional integration to the extent where the boundaries between individual components become blurred.
  • Modelling and simulation:
    Systematic design, model based control as well as path planning schemes require appropriate descriptions of a soft robot’s behaviour and their interaction with the environment.
  • Morphological computation and control:
    Morphological computation offers the opportunity to outsource computational tasks to a soft robot’s morphology affecting the way a soft robot is controlled.

The characteristics and principles inherent in soft material robotic systems should be explored by addressing the following key questions:

  • How can the properties of soft robotic systems be effectively exploited?
  • What opportunities arise from the use of soft materials with regard to
    • active and passive adaptability,
    • whole body deformation and dexterity,
    • complexity reduction?
  • How can the principle of morphological computation be made applicable and what are the advantages and challenges?
  • In which ways do soft robotic systems offer the opportunity of functional integration/fusion? What are the consequences of this functional fusion within a soft robotic system and how can advantages be exploited and challenges be met?
  • What requirements must be met such that soft robotic systems can be used for human-robot interaction and how can these requirements be fulfilled?

The programme is intended to be highly interdisciplinary in nature. Potential participants are encouraged to establish collaborations with other research groups when submitting their proposals. Participating projects will need to address at least one of the five key questions and must cover at least two core research areas. Applicants should explicitly state on which of the five key questions they will focus and which two research areas will be covered by their research.

It should be noted here that the common abbreviation soft robotics can be misleading, as it is also used for robots that are extrinsically soft, i.e. robots in which compliancy is achieved through mechanism design (i.e. springs, compliant joints) and control. While these extrinsically soft robots are not within the scope of the programme, innovative proposals that address currents issues posed by intrinsically soft robotic systems are highly encouraged. Successful projects should make a contribution to the field of soft material robotics by demonstrating how the potential of soft materials can be effectively leveraged. In phase 1 of the programme, the characteristics and principles found in soft material robotic systems should be explored regardless of a specific application.

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 29 November 2017. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. To enter a new project within the existing Priority Programme, go to Proposal Submission – New Project/Draft Proposal – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2100 SMRS” from the current list of calls.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. In addition to submitting your proposal through elan, please send an electronic copy to the programme coordinator.

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 14 November 2017 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

Further Information

More information on the Priority Programme is available under:

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

  • Prof. Dr.-Ing. Annika Raatz,
    Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover,
    Produktionstechnisches Zentrum Hannover,
    Institut für Montagetechnik (match),
    An der Universität 2,
    30823 Garbsen,
    phone +49 511 762-18242,
    Link auf E-Mailraatz@match.uni-hannover.de

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact:


This text is available at Interner Linkwww.dfg.de/foerderung/info_wissenschaft/2017/info_wissenschaft_17_55/. Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item.