The Biodesign Lab does community outreach through a number of different efforts, including participating in the Bionic5K that was a recreational race and event to celebrate hope over despair, diversity over uniformity, and possibilities over disabilities. The Bionic5K recognizes the resilience and tenacity of disabled athletes while celebrating advances in science and technology that are ushering in a new bionic age. Many people in the lab walked or ran the course and highlighted some of the technology we are developing aimed at improving mobility for those with physical impairments. It was a very exciting event and great to participate with many others from the greater Boston community.

Bionic 5K Race Pic Bionic 5K Race Pic 2


Soft Robotics ToolkitIn addition to community participation events like the above, a large portion of our outreach effort comes through running workshops for children and educators as part of the Soft Robotics Toolkit. The Soft Robotics Toolkit is an open source platform for soft robotics developed in the Biodesign Lab and grown out of a need for a shared collection of detailed design documentation to support students in a medical design course. What began as a way to centralize knowledge for a single classroom has grown into a website that gives anyone interested in learning about soft robotics a way to learn from and build off of work being done by others around the world.

In addition to this online presence, in person teaching sessions and workshops done locally in the Harvard community and at other universities abroad have allowed the Soft Tobotics Toolkit and the Harvard Biodesign Lab to reach children and get them excited about robotics. The lab's outreach activities generally are either lectures, short single day exercises, or longer multi-day workshops. Members of the Biodesign Lab have given lectures through programs such as Project Teach to give middle schoolers a glimpse of what being an engineer or designer in a university lab is all about. Additionally, short one day activities have been organized through EXPLO, as part of Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), in the Cambridge Ringe and Latin School, through the Apprentice Learning program and the Artemis Project. The shorter ativities usually involve a breif introduction to Soft Robotics and then having the students build a small soft robotic actuator (like these grippers). Longer, multi day workshops have been run though the Harvard Ed Portal as well as organized in the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología in Lima, Peru. In the longer workshops, students are able to build multiple different types of actuators or sensors and are given design tasks to use what they've learned to design and build a novel robot of their own. More information about the workshops mentioned above is shown below.

2019 Workshops

NH Techfest NH Techfest
Age group: All ages | When: November: 2nd, 2019
The NH Techfest took place at Salem High School in New Hampshire and hosted a variety of technology companies and initiatives such as DEKA Research, Bose, FBI, and First Robotics. Coming straight from the successful workshops in India, the Soft Robotics Toolkit showcased their most up to date kit and presented a video of the Indian workshops to highlight the widespread outreach. Great connections were made with local New Hampshire schools with hopes of future collaborations.
Delhi Workshop Delhi, India Workshops
Age group: 11 - 14 | when: October 14 - 18th, 2019
The Soft Robotics Toolkit held workshops in two schools in Delhi, India. The goal of the workshops was to introduce students to soft robotics and to inspire them to find interest in STEM fields. We took this opportunity to test our newly design instruction manuals, as well as a newly developed magazine for providing insights into the concepts that make up soft robotics. We had overwhelmingly positive feedback and made important discoveries to further develop the kit to provide students and teachers with a rich learning experience.
Explo EXPLO Workshop
Age group: 14- 15 | when: July 24th, 2019
The bioengineering program for young women, EXPLO, returned this summer to experience the newest version of the Soft Robotics Toolkit. They enjoyed discovering soft robotics by casting silicone and building a manually actuated soft gripper. Great discussions and great feedback, we hope to see them back in 2020 for the third year in a row!
Robot Block Party Robot Block Party
Age group: All ages | When: October 20th 2019
The MassRobotics Robot Block Party is a one-day, hands-on event open to the public in downtown Boston. The event features booths set up from universities and companies to showcase interesting robotics research and products for the general public. The Robot Block Party takes place during Massachusetts STEM week and has hundreds of local children come through to see the exhibits. The toolkit's booth showcases the new all-in-one instructional kits for education. Kids have a great time at the booth using soft robotic grippers to pick and place objects of differing shapes and sizes.
Acera Acera Innovator Symposium
Age group: All ages | When: October 24th 2019
The Acera Innovator Symposium allows students to meet scientists, tech leaders, and inventors from local universities and companies. Talks from CEOs and PhD scientists are interspersed with hands-on maker stations showcasing current work in science and robotics. The toolkit's booth again showcases the new all-in-one instructional kits for education. Kids have a great time at the booth using soft robotic grippers to pick and place objects of differing shapes and sizes.

2018 Workshops

Age group: 13-16 | When: July 19th 2018
EXPLO is a summer program in bioengineering for young women in 9th-11th grade. Hosted at Wheaton College, the participants travel to area schools in and around Boston to experience workshops, lectures, and lab visits to help foster an interest in science. As part of the program, 15 participants traveled to Harvard for a workshop, participating in the SDM finger and pneumatic muscle activity to coincide with their bioengineering courses. Each student made two soft actuators and tested actuation powered by one artificial muscles to determine how this actuator could be utilized to tackle various objects encountered.

2017 Workshops

Educators Workshop MassRobotics Educator Workshop
Age groups: Educators of various levels | When: October 11th 2017
Educators from around Boston came to MassRobotics for a workshop with the Soft Robotics Toolkit showcasing the Resources for Educators materials published on softroboticstoolkit.com. The workshop focused on training educators in the newly developed fabrication guides for educators so that they could better integrate STEM materials into their classrooms or after school activities. The workshop took participants through the process of planning, building and sealing a cardboard mold as well as becoming familiar with the silicone casting process. In the end the educators made SDM Finger actuators, a lesson typically used to teach students about mold making, geometry and locomotion.
REU Workshop REU Workshop
Age groups: Undergraduates | When: July 13th - 14th 2017
The Soft Robotics toolkit held a workshop with the Harvard Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. The summer students travel to Harvard from universities around the world to gain additional research experience and bring the lessons back to their home institutions. The workshop gave an introductory soft robotics lessons and walked them through the process of creating a soft gripper, a simple example of a pneumatic actuator. One student from the program took this newfound knowledge to his home university in Puerto Rico and conducted a workshop within his engineering department.
img_20170831_110534000.jpg Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia - UPCH Workshop
Age group: 11-12 | When: August 2017
Soft Robotics Toolkit partners from Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH) hosted a workshop in the IEP Maria Goretti High School in Peru. The workshop focused on helping younger Peruvian students become aware of the field of engineering through hands-on construction and activities. Participants made pneumatic actuators with embedded soft sensors that could be co-molded and tested with a multi-meter. 

Harvard Ed Portal Workshop
Age group: 10-14 | When: July 2017
In the second year of the Ed Portal’s soft robotics week participants built soft robotic ‘fingers’ using cardboard molds, silicone and string which they were able to connect to a small motor and pulley to create a simple robotic hand. Students also fabricated soft stretchable strain sensors, pneumatic wrist braces made of heat-weldable fabric and imagined their own soft robots in a design thinking exercise. 



Project Teach Lecture 
Age group: 10-14 | When: March 2017
This year’s Project Teach saw students from Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn, New York travel to Boston for an afternoon of campus tours, lectures and insight into college life. We hosted a lecture on soft robot applications, research, site content and what educational paths and skills can lead to a career in robots and engineering.


2016 Workshops


UTEC Workshop 
Age group: undergrads | When: July 2016
Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología in Lima, Peru was the site for a soft robotic workshop focused on bringing the Toolkit content to a global following and testing the quality of the Toolkit’s educational content with an international audience. The workshop participants were guided in a design activity where they were able to design, prototype and present a conceptual design with the hopes that the exposure could prepare students with the skills needed to build upon work already published on the Toolkit site.


Ed Portal Workshop 
Age group: 10-14 | When: July 2016
The Harvard Ed Portal, a collaborative partnership involving Harvard, the Allston-Brighton community, and the City of Boston, is the Allston-Brighton community outreach program dedicated to providing extracurricular, art programs, and personal and professional development programs where students can interface with Harvard undergrads and graduates. We held a one week program to teach the design process. Student were introduced to soft robotics through various design activities, including building molds, robotic components as well as participating in conceptual design projects and imaginative exercises.


CRLS Workshop 
Age group: 14-18 | When: March 2016
An after-school workshop run at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school was an opportunity for us to help spread soft robotics to high school students. These students had some experience in robotics from their core curriculum or from the robotics programs and clubs at the school. The workshop aimed to show these students the low-cost and easily available construction methods used for the mold-making such as cardboard, tape and hot glue, in hopes that it may inspire them in their own projects.


Apprentice Learning ​​​​
Age group: 14 | When: March 2016
Apprentice Learning is a program that gives eighth graders in the Boston Public Schools exposure to various career paths through short apprenticeships and hands-on learning. work within the industries they shadow. Working with this program, we organized a visit to the Wyss Institute where students participated in a workshop where students made soft pneumatic actuators and experimented with various types of materials such as ribbon, fabric and kevlar cord to control the movement of the actuators.



Project Teach Lecture 
Age group: 10-14 | When: March 2016
Project Teach is a Harvard SEAS program for local 6th-8th graders get to tour Harvard͛s campus, attend lectures from Harvard researchers, and get a feel for college life to inspire aspirations for higher education. The program included visits with undergraduates, classroom tours and a lecture where we spoke to students about soft robotics, the applications for the emerging field as well as the importance of higher education for pursuing this career path. The lecture included demonstrations of robotic components and at the conclusion of the lecture students played with the soft robot components that are published on the Toolkit site.


2015 Workshops


Artemis Project 
Age group: 14 | When: July 2015
The Artemis Project is a five-week summer program run by Boston University for rising 9th grade girls focused on computer science, robotics and electronics. As part of the program, participants toured various local universities where they heard from guest speakers and attended lectures to learn about real-world applications for science and engineering. As part of the visit to Harvard SEAS, we set up a crash course on soft robotics to help participants learn about two part molding processes and making the Soft Gripper, a 4-fingered gripper able to inflate and pick up small objects.