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02 January 2024

Developing A New Wave Of Soft Robots

The Department of Engineering has been working in collaboration with Air Giants.

Dr Oya Celiktutan (centre) with King’s students Jeffrey Chong, Theodore Lamarche and Bowen Liu and Sprout the robot
Dr Oya Celiktutan (centre) with King’s students Jeffrey Chong, Theodore Lamarche and Bowen Liu and Sprout the robot

Air Giants are a soft robotics creative studio. They are acclaimed for being the first company in the world to make interactive robot creatures at scale.

In 2022, they were in residence at King’s College London with the Department of Engineering, supported by King’s Culture.

Air Giants collaborated with King’s robotics researchers and students to explore how we might develop a new wave of robots that learn by interacting with humans to promote creativity and well-being.

The residency, rooted in research led by Dr Oya Celiktutan, Head of the Social AI & Robotics Lab (SAIR) within the Department of Engineering, uses the theory of Proxemics - the study of how humans use space as a form of non-verbal communication - to explore how motion, distance and space might facilitate effective communication between humans and robots.

“The collaboration between Air Giants and the Department of Engineering has created a unique opportunity for both education and research. Our students worked on solving a practical human-robot interaction problem and had the chance to observe the real-world impact of their work. This experience allowed them to disseminate their research and engage directly with general audiences in a creative and playful way, enhancing their learning and outreach.”

Oya Celiktutan, Academic Lead of Social AI & Robotics Laboratory, Department of Engineering
A member of the King's Robotics Lab team interacting with Sprout, a blue tall soft robot

The vision of SAIR is to transform human daily life with robots through the development of human-robot interaction interfaces, designed to assist people in homes, workplaces, and public spaces. To achieve this ambitious goal, Dr Celiktutan and her team focus on building cutting-edge machine-learning algorithms to enable robots to perceive and interact with humans and their environment.

Following the residency, a new robot called Sprout, designed collaboratively between Dr Celiktutan, King’s students Jeffrey Chong, Theodore Lamarche and Bowen Liu, and Air Giants, was included in the exhibition AI: Who's Looking After Me? at Science Gallery London, King’s flagship public gallery space. The exhibition runs until 20 January 2024.

The collaboration with Air Giants supports King’s ambitions to understand how we might learn to live well with new and emerging technologies through radical interdisciplinary research.

“It’s been brilliant having Air Giants as creative robotics experts in residence at King's since 2022. Fuelling the future of robotics innovation, this incredible soft robotics company have been working with the Engineering Department to inspire collaborative learning, foster creativity, and cultivate the next generation of forward-thinking engineers, artists, and innovators. We have had the opportunity to bring Air Giants’ innovative robots to two of our public-facing platforms at King's; Science Gallery London and now to the Strand Aldwych. This dynamic collaboration, where academia meets innovation, has shaped a campus environment that champions interdisciplinary excellence and pushes the boundaries of what is possible”.

Leanne Hammacott, Head of Programming, King's Culture

This follows on from Dr Celiktutan’s earlier collaboration with Toyota Motor Europe to build socially aware Human Support Robots who can learn from humans, integrate into their social environment and assist them in their everyday lives.

In this story

Oya Celiktutan

Senior Lecturer in Engineering (Robotics)

Leanne Hammacott

Head of Programming, Culture


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