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Route Cantonale,
1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

BioRobotics Lab

Scientific Responsible
Auke Ijspeert

The structure

The Biorobotics Laboratory (BioRob in short) is part of the Institute of Bioengineering in the School of Engineering at the EPFL. We work on the computational aspects of locomotion control, sensorimotor coordination, and learning in animals and in robots. We are interested in using robots and numerical simulation to study the neural mechanisms underlying movement control and learning in animals, and in return to take inspiration from animals to design new control methods for robotics as well as novel robots capable of agile locomotion in complex environments.

Our research interests are therefore at the intersection between robotics, computational neuroscience, nonlinear dynamical systems, and machine learning. We carry out research projects in the following areas: neuromechanical simulations of locomotion and movement control, systems of coupled nonlinear oscillators for locomotion control, adaptive dynamical systems, design and control of amphibious, legged, and reconfigurable robots, control of humanoid robots and of exoskeletons.

Available platforms

Swimming Pool and Flow tank

The facility is a medium size pool for testing performance of small swimming robots. The room is equipped with a tracking system based on the cameras mounted above the swimming pool. Tracking system provides position information of all bright points in the swimming pool area. Swimming tests against water flow can also be done by mounting removable components of the flow tank system, shown in the left photo.

Key features

  • Good position accuracy of multiple points in 2D (<1cm)
  • Quick and fast integration of tracking system client code
  • Removable flow tank components for fast switching between infinity swimming and free swimming

Possible applications

  • Testing and position tracking of swimming robots while swimming freely in the pool
  • Swimming (and position tracking) against the constant flow of water, i.e. infinity swimming when speed and direction of flow is matched with the ones of the swimming robot


Cheetah-Cub (https://biorob.epfl.ch/cheetah) was not fundamentally altered from its early development days. Some major changes are introduced with Cheetah-Cub-AL. The leg was redesigned and features now a (to the saggital plane of the leg) symmetric diagonal spring, canceling unwanted bending behavior present in previous Cheetah-Cub-versions. Additionally, making use of classical CNC manufacturing techniques with aluminumin combination with ball-bearings in every joint, friction was reduced, alignment of the axis and repeatability of experiments were improved. The changes to the trunk are little but feature now an easy access to the control board for development purposes. Another major change is the switch to a new operating system, Jokto, that improves stability and ease of use. Tuleu implemented inverse-kinematics of the legs for control purposes. This allowed to tune gaits much faster andmore intuitively. The robot was featured recently in Prof. Ijspeert’s talk in TED Global Geneva.

Key features

  • It shows self-stabilizing behavior over a large range of speeds with open loop control
  • It is lightweight, compact, electrically powered
  • It is cheap, easy to reproduce, robust, and safe to handle

Possible applications

  • Animal gait exploration
  • Platform as light sensor carrier, such as a small camera
  • Exploring different neural networks inspired by animals as high-level controllers
  • Researching different feet or legs designs
  • Search and rescue


Oncilla is a compliant, quadruped robot developed during the FP7 European project AMARSi (Adaptive Modular Architectures for Rich Motor Skills, project start March 2010, project duration 48 months, 4 Oncilla copies build and distributed, 2 remain at BIOROB). The goal of the AMARSi project was to improve richness of robotic motor skills. Oncilla is a highly sensorized robot with panthographic legs (ASLP legs) as well as an abduction/adduction (AA) mechanism. The sensorization features encoders on each joint and motor, IMU as well as new ground contact sensors in the feet (3d force-sensors). The research done with the BIOROB team focuses around closed loop rough terrain locomotion and richer motor behaviors through a combination of CPG’s and reflexes.

Key features

  • Different actuator architecture using Brushlessh DC motors and custom electronics
  • Closed-loop control with joint position and inverse kinematics
  • Load sensors, IMU
  • On-board power supply
  • Possibility of up to 500g payload

Possible applications

  • Animal gait exploration
  • Platform for sensor carrier, such as camera
  • Exploring different neural networks inspired by animals
  • Researching different feet or legs designs
  • Search and Rescue


Modular robotics for adaptive and self-organizing furniture that moves, self-assembles, and self-reconfigures. Our dream is to provide multi-functional modules that are merged with the furniture and that lay users and engineers can combine for multiple applications.

Key features

  • 3 degrees of freedom and 2 active connection mechanisms per module
  • 10 connection surfaces per module
  • Local sensors to detect docking position
  • 2 LED rings per module for visual feedback
  • Extensible with specialized elements (Universal Gripper, LED spotlight, camera + on-board PC)
  • One module can lift another module and up to 500 g as payload in the end effector
  • Position, speed or Central-Pattern-Generator (CPG) control
  • Off-grid (free) and on-grid locomotion
  • Controlled from centralized PC; commands over serial port on Bluetooth
  • Easy-to-use GUI (based on Unity; only visualization, no physics)

Possible applications

  • Automatic construction of shapes or objects
  • Smart moving manipulator or spotlight
  • Novel interface to control and coordinate multiple modules at the same time
  • Rapid prototyping of robots by coordinating multiple modules


Serval, the last in a line of robot iterations, is meant to serve as a quadruped for agile movement. We use the previously researched mechanisms, control structures and gained knowledge in the electronics development to build a combined and hopefully higher performing robot. Serval consists of and active 3-DOF spine (combining advantages from Lynx and Cheetah-Cub-S), leg units with adduction/abduction mechanism and a scaled ASLP-version of Cheetah-Cub-AL. All motors (Dynamixel MX64R and MX28R) are combined with in-series elastics to protect
the rather sensitive gear-boxes from harm in different load scenarios. The robot is equipped only with a minimal sensor set, consisting of a low-cost, medium-grade IMU. Collaborations, started close to the end of this thesis will provide contact and GRF sensing with capacitive sensors as well as a sensitive skin for physical guidance. Control is realized through inverse kinematics for the legs, (for now) offsets in the spine and an underlying CPG-network for pattern generation. Reflexes, like in Oncilla, were not yet implemented, but are ongoing and future work.

Key features

  • Standart Servo-motors
  • Inverse kinematics control with in-series elastics
  • IMU, (sensitive skin, GRF-sensors (in implementaion))
  • On-board power supply
  • Possibility of up to 300g (distributed) payload

Possible applications

  • Animal gait exploration, versatility
  • Platform for sensor carrier, such as camera
  • Exploring different neural networks inspired by animals
  • Researching different feet or legs designs
  • Researching loss of limb strategies
  • Exploring in narrow spaces