Internship: Embodying intelligence in soft robots using nonlinear mechanical springs

Date posted October 30, 2023
Type Scientific Internships

Upon loading, soft structures can undergo large yet reversible deformations. Their mechanical responses are in general more complex than conventional constructions due to geometric nonlinearities. Traditionally structures are designed to avoid these nonlinearities. By contrast, in this project, we want to harness and tame these more complex behaviors, with the aim of embedding functionalities and intelligence within the structural body of robots that are made from soft materials.

The proposed approach consists of investigating the rich mechanical responses that emerge from assemblies of basic 3D-printed mechanical units, that serve as building blocks, each characterized by a fundamental nonlinear behavior, such as softening, stiffening or unstable. In particular, we believe that mechanical units exhibiting typical snap-through instabilities are the key ingredients to attain advanced functions. For example, snapping building blocks placed in series display a sequential hysteresis under cyclic loading that might be exploited to build locomotion patterns.

In this project we are developing a method that enables to simulate and explore numerically how 1D and 2D assemblies of units behave under cyclic loading to identify assemblies with promising characteristics for locomotion. In parallel, soft mechanical units will be manufactured by 3D=-printing and assembled to design a soft robot able to walk and even perform advanced tasks, without requiring a central brain.

With this project, we envision to demonstrate the potential of nonlinear mechanics in generating actuation sequences and other types of functionalities, thereby uncovering fundamental principles on how intelligence and control can be embodied in robotic applications by only using a few purely-mechanical components.

About the group

The Soft Robotic Matter group (See also: focuses on the design, fabrication and fundamental understanding of materials that are capable of autonomously adapting to – and even harnessing – variations in their environment. We aim to uncover principles that help us understand how non-linearity and feedback can result in the emergence of complex – but useful – behaviour in soft actuated systems. To this end, the Soft Robotic Matter group uses a combination of computational and experimental tools. This line of research combines concepts from soft robotics and architected materials, providing new and exciting opportunities in the design of compliant structures and devices with highly non-linear behaviour. We provide a highly collaborative and supportive environment, both within the group and institute, and through national and international collaborations.


The internship is open to candidates from a range of backgrounds, including Engineering, Physics, Computer Science, Mathematics or a related field. The Soft Robotic Matter group is looking for a highly motivated candidate with a go-getter mentality. Excellent verbal and written communication skills (in English) are essential. The internship must be a mandatory part of your curriculum. You have a nationality of an EU-member state and/or you are a student at a Netherlands University. Please note: As of January 2021 the UK is no longer an EU member state. You must be available for preferably more than 6 months.

Terms of employment

At the start of the traineeship your trainee plan will be set out, in consultation with your AMOLF supervisor.

Contact info

dr. ir. Overvelde (Soft Robotic Matter Group)
Phone: +31 (0)20-754 7100

You can respond to this vacancy online via the button below.
Please annex your:
–  Resume;
–  1-page motivation letter;
–  List of followed courses plus grades.

Applications will be evaluated on a rolling basis and as soon as an excellent match is made, the position will be filled.

Online screening may be part of the selection.

AMOLF is highly committed to an inclusive and diverse work environment. Hence, we greatly encourage candidates from any personal background and perspective to apply.

Commercial activities in response to this ad are not appreciated.