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Aquatic Soft Robotic STEM Education Kit


OUSD (R&E) MODERNIZATION PRIORITY: Biotechnology;General Warfighting Requirements (GWR)


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Ground / Sea Vehicles;Materials / Processes


OBJECTIVE: Develop next-generation STEM Education aquatic robotics kits that employ soft, flexible, and waterproof materials and designs that will become widely accessible to students at various education levels (grades K-12); and support the workforce demands of a technically savvy and innovative current Naval enterprise.


DESCRIPTION: Recent research has shown that students are most challenged to use critical thinking skills when tasked to build around a specific application with specific design criteria [Ref 1]. Therefore, this STTR topic seeks the development of a STEM education toolkit that addresses a specific Naval application (aquatic soft robots) relevant for building the critical skills for future Naval technologies. Building aquatic robots from flexible materials requires a multidisciplinary skill set centered on math, physics, biology, and materials design, all which are valuable to nurture the expertise of the future Naval workforce [Ref 2]. The principles that would be achieved through this aquatic soft robotics toolset would modernize current robotic programs and offer students new and innovative skill sets (manufacturing, material science, mechanical, design and human-robot cooperation) by advancing the state of the art. The toolset should serve educational purposes as well as provide competition and engagement opportunities for building an evolving and growing community.


PHASE I: Demonstrate feasibility through scientifically sound design of a robotic kit that is built using flexible materials that are waterproof. Focus should be on physical concepts such as forces, motion, and friction; and robotics concepts such as actuation, pneumatics and controls; and how all of these can relate to biology. Attention must be paid to the educational instructions, guides, and design in addition to the robotic design. The kit should be adaptable for lesson plans, workshops, home, and school use. Consider educational value through thoughtful design and application of educational principles for each age group. Develop a Phase II plan.


PHASE II: Develop, demonstrate and validate the underwater soft robot prototype educational kit based on the Phase I design concept. Test and evaluate the prototype using meaningful metrics with the appropriate target student populations (as cited in the Description). Develop educational instructions and guides. Ensure that the kit is adaptable for lesson plans, workshops, and home and in-school use. Feasibility of the educational value should be considered through thoughtful design and application of educational principles for each age group.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Transition prototype to a partner in the educational sector.



  1. Holland, D.P.; Walsh, C. and Bennett, G.J. “An assessment of student needs in project-based mechanical design courses.” 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. Paper #7038.
  2. Calabria, M.F. “Move Like a Shark, Vanish Like a Squid: The Navy Must Invest in Biomimetics to Sustain Dominance on the High Seas.” Proceedings USNI, Vol. 147/7/1,421.


KEYWORDS: Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Education; STEM; Robotics; Soft materials; Aquatic; Biomimetic; Bioinspired

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