In the Morph Lab, we try to understand the principles behind realtime conditioning of the physical body to improve both perception and action. Since it is difficult to unentangle parallel pathways of motor commands in a living being, we take a soft robotics approach to test questions to do with embodied intelligence. We enjoy this approach because it not only allows us to understand principles that are applicable to biological beings but also helps us to build useful soft robots. For more details please read the overview.

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About the PI

ThrishDr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara is Reader (an associate professor) in Design Engineering and Robotics at Dyson School of Design Engineering (DSDE), Imperial College London, where he is also the Director of the Morph lab. He is also the speaker (chair) of the Imperial Robotics Forum that consists of 44 robotics research groups across Imperial, and the Industry engagement chair of the UK RAS Strategic Task group for Soft Robotics. He has published more than 150 papers in flagship robotics conferences and journals including IEEE transactions on robotics, International Journal of Robotics Research, IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, RSS, IROS, ICRA, and RoboSoft. He is in the executive committee of the UK RAS Strategic Task Group for Soft Robotics, and in the editorial board as an Associate Editor of flagship robotics publications such as IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, RSS, ICRA, IROS, RoboSoft, Frontiers in Soft Robotics, and the Journal of Robotics and Mechatronics. He has worked at leading laboratories for robotics and neuromotor control, including the Laboratory for Computational Motor Control, Johns Hopkins University, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), and Harvard Neuromotor Control Lab. He is and has been PI on EPSRC and EU funded projects of more than £5 million that have pushed the boundaries of our understanding on how conditioning the body improves the efficacy of action and perception in human-human and human-robot interactions.

Work experience

  • January 2017 – now: Reader in Design Engineering and Robotics, Imperial College London, London
  • Sep 2012 – December 2016: Senior Lecturer, Department of Informatics, King’s College London, London.
  • March 2008 – Sep 2012: Lecturer, Division of Engineering, King’s College London, London.
  • July 2007 – January 2008: Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • February 2008 – August 2008: Visiting Scholar, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • September 2008 – June 2009: Radcliffe Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • April 2008 – June 2009: Research Affiliate, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), MIT, Cambridge, MA.
  • August 2003 – June 2008: Senior lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
  • November 2001 – July 2003: Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.

Personal bio

I was born in Galle, Sri Lanka and did primary and secondary education in Richmond College, Galle, one of the oldest Methodist Missionary Schools in South Asia. I was not a very studious student upto year 7. I became last in the class of year 7 and had to leave the top group in the grade. This woke me up. I took an advice from my eldest brother that we humans can reach any goal if the will is there. It came with a compelling example while we were working in the small paultry farm in the backyard. I started to think differently, and as a result, I not only did well in the school over the next 5 years, but also  came within the top 10 in Sri Lanka in the country-wide A/L university entry examination out of more than 200,000 students. I was lucky to be admitted to the University of Moratuwa with a Mahapola Fulbright Scholarship to study Engineering. I graduated with a First Class Honors Degree in Engineering, majoring in Electrical Engineering in 1996. A volunteer project I did with my brother's PhD supervisor in Japan opened up an opportunity to go to Saga University, Japan, to do postgraduate studies with a Japanese Government Monbusho Scholarship in 1996. I got an MSc with distinction in Systems Control, and PhD in Robotics from Saga University in 1998 and 2001 respectively. Then I moved to US to do a postdoc in Computational Human Motor Control with Professor Reza Shadmehr at the School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University.

In 2003, there was a peace treaty in the Sri Lanka’s civil war. I returned to Sri Lanka to set up a bio-inspired robotics lab in the University of Moratuwa to support the on-going humanitarian landmine detection work in the war-torn Northern part of the country. Some of this work was featured in the Harvard magazine and the New Scientist Magazine. During this time, I also served as the Commissioner of the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission. I left Sri Lanka in 2006. Susequently, I was a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University, and a Research Affiliate at CSAIL, MIT. I accepted a lecturership at Kings College London in 2008 and started the Morph Lab. I moved the lab to Dyson School of Design Engineering, Imperial College London in 2017. Since then, I have been enjoying the great robotics community and the nurturing environment at Imperial.

I regularly practice Vipassana Meditation in the Buddhist Theravadha Tradition at Amaravati and Cittaviveka Buddhist Monasteries. In parallel, I practice Karate at the Kyu Dojo under Sense Sue following Seiki Juku tradition. I became a Black Belt in 2017. Vipassana meditation has helped me to enjoy the inner peace and Karate has helped me to develop patience, respect, and humbleness. I am married with two children. I take this opportunity to thank my wife, Visakha who has been a friend and a critic who filled my life with love and happiness all the way from the undergraduate days at the University of Morwatuwa.

Keynotes/invited talks

  • 06/09/2020: Workshop keynote speaker, Eurohaptics 2020 -Workshop on ''Active haptic humans and robots (THUMB): Artificial haptic systems'', Amsterdam.
  • 03/09/2020: Invited speaker, 5th European COST Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Finance and Industry, Zurich.
  • 24/07/2020: Guest inIEEE RAS Soft Robotics Podcast.
  • 13/07/2020: One of the 5 panellists in the First IEEE RAS debate on Soft Robotics, Control Theory, and Morphological Computation.
  • 23/09/2019: UK/US Bio-inspired Unmanned Autonomous Systems (BioUAS), Plenary talk titled "The brain is lazy" highlighting the clever ways it takes to condition the body to simplify autonomous control, London, UK.
  • 27/06/2019: Robotics Science and Systems (RSS) 2019, Plenary workshop talk on "Embodied computation of perception and action for fast uncertainty reduction", Freiburg, Germany.
  • 14/04/2019: IEEE RoboSoft 2019,Plenary workshop talk at IEEE RoboSoft 2019 on "Towards the nature of information processing in soft machines", Seoul, South Korea.
  • 14/04/2019: IEEE RoboSoft 2019,Workshop organizer and workshop talk at IEEE RoboSoft 2019 on "Morphological Computation Through Physical Adaptation of SoftRobots", Seoul, South Korea.
  • 24/04/2018: IEEE RoboSoft 2018,Plenary workshop talk at IEEE RoboSoft 2018 on "Haptic information gain in the impedance domain", Levorno, Italy.
  • 23/05/2018: IEEE ICRA2018,Plenary workshop talk at IEEE ICRA2018 on "Brain is the last resort", Brisbane, Australia.
  • 27/05/2018: IEEE ICRA2018,Invited workshop talk at IEEE ICRA2018 on "Active search for haptic information in the impedance domain", Brisbane, Australia.
  • 02/05/2018: University of Leeds, Keynote on "Surviving in an uncertain world with slow communication pathways", Leeds, UK.
  • 04/10/2018: RCGP-2018,Workshop keynote speech at Royal College of General Practitioners annual conference on "Soft Robotic Patients for Medical Education", Glasgow, UK.
  • 17/08/2018: Xuzhuo Central Hospital, Keynote speech at Xuzhou Central Hospital on "SoftRobotics for Rehabilitation", Xuzhou, China
  • 23/08/2018: Jilin University, Keynote speech at International Workshop on Bioinspiration on "Morphological computation - The role of the physical circuits in the body in the computation of perception and action", Jilin, China.
  • 11/10/2017: IEEE PIMRC, Plenary keynote at IEEE PIMRC on "Survival in uncertain environ-ments with slow communication pathways – evidence from morphological computation", Montreal, Canada.
  • 12/12/2017: IMechE Christmas event, Keynote at IMechE Christmas event – "Tinkering" on "If robots were to survive like living beings in uncertain environments", London, UK.
  • 18/12/2017: LIPI workshop, Keynote at Indonesia Institute of Science and technology on "Softrobotics for sustainable rainforest communities", Bandung, Indonesia.
  • 10/07/2017: 2nd UK manipulation workshop, Invited talk on "Surviving with slow communication pathways", London, UK.
  • 23/03/2017: ERU-2017,Co-organizer and speaker in the Workshop on "Haptics for Healthcare", Edinburgh, UK.
  • 05/07/2017: University of Cambridge, Invited talk at University of Cambridge on "Soft robotics and morphological computation", Cambridge, UK.

Research grants

July, 2019-March, 2022
Title: RoboPatient: Robot-Assisted Learning of Constrained Haptic Information Gain
Funding body: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Principle Investigator, coordinator) , amount £1.6 million

July, 2016-July, 2019
Title: MOTION – Morphological Computation of Perception and Action
Funding body: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Principle Investigator, coordinator) , amount £1.2 million.

December 2014-November, 2017
Four by Three
Funding body: European Union H-2020 grant, grant agreement no:637095, Co-Investigator, £500k.

January, 2012-Jan, 2016
Title: STIFF-FLOP – STIFFness controllable Flexible and Learn-able Manipulator for surgical OPerations
Funding body: European Union FP7 Call-7 grant, Call identifier: FP7-ICT-2009-7, Co-Investigator, technical manager of the consortium, (KCL amount (coordinator): Euro 1.3m, total consortium grant: Euro 7.38m).

March, 2011-Sept, 2012
Title Impedance control on uncertain objects
Funding body: EPSRC first grant, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Principal Investigator,
(amount: £97k).

March, 2011-Dec, 2014
Title: DARWIN-Dextrous Assembler Robot Working with embodied INtelligence (PI)
Funding body: European Union FP7 Call-6 grant, Call identifier: FP7-ICT-2009-6,
(amount: Euro 480k).

April, 2011-Sept, 2014
Title: REINS: Human robot interaction through reins
Funding body: EPSRC , Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Co-Investigator in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University, (amount: £200k).

March, 2011-Dec, 2014
Title: TOMSY-Topological Motion Synthesis for Dexterous Manipulation
Funding body: European Union FP7 Call-6 grant, Call identifier: FP7-ICT-2009-6, Co-Investigator, (amount: £535k).

April, 2009
Title: Radcliffe Exploratory Seminar on Technologies for Humanitarian Demining
Funding body: Award to organize an exploratory seminar, Radcliffe Institute for Advance Studies, Harvard University, Co-organizer with Prof. Robert Howe, Associate Dean, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, (amount: USD14k).

Jan, 2006-Dec, 2006
Title: Deployment of a colony legged mobile robots for landmine detection: An extension to MURALI I (Moratuwa University Robot for Anti- landmine Intelligence)
Funding body: Grant no. RG/ 2006/TDPS/02, National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka (NSF), Principal Investigator, (amount: Rs. 2,720k). Sri Lanka

Jan, 2005-Dec, 2006
Title: Development of an embedded sensor to detect red-weevil larvae in early stages
Funding body: Grant no. 12/620/467, Council for Agricultural Research Policy of Sri Lanka (CARP), Principal Investigator, (amount: Rs. 553.12k). Sri Lanka

Jan, 2004-Dec, 2005
Title: A robotic system for landmine detection
Funding body: Grant no. RG/ 2004/ E02, National Science Foundation, Principal Investigator, (amount: Rs. 902.5k). Sri Lanka

Editorial Boards

 

  • 2020: Special Issue Editor, International Journal of Robotics Research (IJRR): Special issue based on accepted papers in RSS 2020.
  • 2020: One of the four editorial board members, Frontiers special issue on Current Advances in Soft Robotics: Best Papers from RoboSoft 2018.
  • 2019: One of the five Program Chairs, Flagship IEEE International Conference of Robotics and Automation (ICRA) 2023 to be held in London, IEEE, USA.
  • 2019 onwards: Associate Editor, IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RAL journal), IEEE, USA.
  • 2018 onwards: Regional chair, Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS), IEEE, USA.
  • 2016 onwards: Associate editor, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), IEEE, USA.
  • 2016 onwards: Associate editor, IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robotics and Systems (IROS), IEEE, USA.
  • 2018 onwards: Associate editor/publications chair, IEEE International Conference on SoftRobotics (RoboSoft), IEEE, USA.
  • 2015 onwards: Associate editor, Frontiers Soft Robotics Specialty, editor in chief: Prof. Cecilia Laschi, Frontiers, Switzerland.
  • 2016 onwards: Associate editor, Journal of Robotics and Mechatronics, editor in chief: Prof. Yoshihiro Takita (National Defence Academy of Japan), JRM, Japan.
  • 2005 onwards: Associate editor, Journal of Control and Intelligent Systems, editor in chief: Prof. Clarence de Silva, ACTA Press, Canada.
  • 2010 onwards: Program Chair, IEEE International Conference on Information and Automation for Sustainability, Sri Lanka, Australia, China.
  • 2005: Founding General Chair, International Conference on Information and Automation for Sustainability, with IEEE technical co-sponsorship, Sri Lanka, Australia, China.
  • 2012: Program committee, 2012 IEEE/SICE International Conference on System Integration (SII2012), December 16-18, 2012, Fukuoka, Japan.

Videos

First IEEE Soft Robotics public debate on Morphological Computation and Control. Watch more videos in our YouTube channel.

First IEEE Soft Robotics debate

First IEEE Soft Robotics public debate on Morphological Computation and Control.

Consulting

Areas of expertise

  • Haptic interfaces and interaction
  • Soft robotic sensors and actuators
  • Optimisation and machine intelligence
  • Wearable robotics

Equipment and facilities available in the lab

Franka

Franka robotic arm shared with Petar Kormushev's group

In addition we have

  • 3 Empatica wearable wristbands to monitor user experience in human-robot interaction experiments.
  • Wireless Noraxon EMG sensor kit
  • Wireless EEG sensor kit
  • ATI force sensors and load cells
  • High end computing facilities for simulations